Thursday, March 26, 2015

Two days in Parsadise, Part 1: The Steve & Ivo Show

On the Rise (a tennis blog) presents the debut guest post from Parsa, a stalwart young USA tennis fan from Southern California. Today we give you part one of his two-part report from Indian Wells. You can read Part Two (Crashing the Pro-Am) here.

The BNP Paribas Open. Wow, what a tournament.

Considered by many as the unofficial "fifth slam" of tennis, this Masters 1000 level tournament has truly elevated itself over other tournaments. It solidified its presence on tour even more as it welcomed back world number one Serena Williams to the event for the first time since 2001. A favorite perk of many is that on the mobile app, fans have the ability to check out the practice schedule of all the players, enabling them to see what court and what time their favorite players will be practicing on. The app also lets fans stream practice courts 1 and 2 giving fans the opportunity to watch players practice, even if they are at home! How revolutionary, YOU CAN WATCH PRACTICE COURTS!

Another thing that makes this tournament so wonderful is that every court has Hawkeye technology, and it's even used for the qualifying tournament!
In addition, there is a grass field for players to exercise and also play some Frisbee or soccer. Many players comment that this is one of their favorite tournaments all year as many players indulge in nearby activities such as golfing or shopping as well as grabbing a bite from the scrumptious In N Out.


This was my 6th consecutive year attending the tournament, but the first time that I attended the tournament both on Saturday and Sunday (first weekend). A personal highlight of mine from this year's tournament was the opportunity to watch my favorite player, American Steve Johnson, in his second round match against the 21st seed, Croat Ivo Karlović. Stevie had won two previous encounters with Karlović in third-set tiebreaks, but had lost to him a couple weeks before in Delray Beach.
Jack Sock

Now back to Indian Wells. The Johnson-Karlović match was played on Stadium 3 as the fourth match in the day session right after American Jack Sock won a thrilling match in a third set tie-break over the thirty-third seed, Gilles Müller. Some guy named Roger happened to be playing at the same time as Stevie in Stadium 1, but there was no way I was leaving my first-row seat for the Johnson-Karlović match. The crowd did an amazing job of getting behind both Sock and Johnson in their respective matches.

I had met Ivo the day before (Saturday) at his practice and wished him good luck in his match the following day, but then I suddenly remembered he was playing Stevie, so I half-jokingly/half-seriously told him never mind. I tweeted our conversation and tagged him in the tweet to which he replied later, "That was messed up." (Now deleted).

Peter Lucassen serving
to Steve Johnson
I also got a chance to watch Stevie practice on Saturday as he was preparing for Ivo. A highlight of the practice for me was watching Stevie's coach Peter Lucassen standing at the service line and hitting serves at Stevie as hard as he can. Obviously, it is hard for someone to replicate Karlovic's monster serve, but serving at the service line rather than the baseline gives the returner less time to react to the serve which gave Stevie the chance to try to emulate returning a serve like Karlovic's.

The following day, a few hours before the match, Stevie hit with former USC Trojan teammate Eric Johnson (no relation to Stevie) a few hours before the match and they happen to be practicing right next to young Canadian star Genie Bouchard. I was lucky enough to find a first row seat for Sock's match which enabled me to have the same seat for the Johnson-Karlović match. Stevie's player box was a few seats to my left and it included his current coach, his father, his girlfriend, and his coach from USC, Peter Smith. Also in attendance were several of Stevie's former USC teammates including Nick Crystal, Roberto Quiroz, and Eric Johnson. USTA Strength and Conditioning coach Rodney "Rocket" Marshall was there, as was Stevie's agent Sam Duvall, who is also the agent for fellow Americans John Isner and Denis Kudla. I also spotted ATP World Tour commentator Nick Lester and American tennis fan @ParentingAces in attendance. This was essentially Stevie's home tournament with so many friends and family in attendance and he definitely looked a bit more pumped up.

By the start of the match, Karlović knew what I looked like, what my Twitter was, and the fact that I was cheering very loudly for Stevie. Stevie broke Karlović early in the first set for a 2-0 lead, and since Karlović certainly isn't known for his return game, @JaredPine who was seated next to me shouted, "Time for the 2nd set!" Karlović thought I shouted it so he looked right at me from about 20 feet away and quickly cussed me out in both English and Croatian that included a couple of F-bombs. As a fan rooting for the opposing player, seeing that I was upsetting Karlović made me feel good and I made sure to redouble my efforts for the rest of the match. After getting the early break, Stevie cruised to take the first set 6-3.
Stevie J


The second set was much tighter as neither player had any break point opportunities. In the tiebreak there were no mini-breaks until Karlović finally got one to take a 4-3 lead which got Stevie enraged at himself. Stevie then kept himself under control and won the following point coming up huge to even up the score at 4 all. There were no more mini-breaks until Stevie had a match point on Karlovic's serve at 6-5 in the tiebreak. On match point, Karlović came into the net and Stevie was running toward the deuce side on the baseline to hit a running forehand which he HIT BEAUTIFULLY for a down-the-line winner! Stevie screamed in excitement and gave some big fist-pumps before giving some high-fives to Peter and Peter, his current coach and his USC coach. Karlović had already shook the umpire's hand and had sat down, while Stevie was celebrating so Stevie ran over quickly to make sure they shook hands to conclude the match, certainly one I'll never forget.

The Johnson-Karlović match was the last match I saw at the tournament, and I couldn't have dreamed up a better scenario for me to leave. After the match I tweeted my excitement about Stevie’s win and also said, "Suck it @IvoKarlovic!!!!" Soon after, I got the expected block from the big man. I'll miss following one of the funniest players on Twitter, but it felt good to know I may have gotten into Karlovic's head during his match. Then again, maybe he'd just had enough of me and didn't want anything to do with me anymore. Oh well, it was worth a Steve Johnson win.

Editor's note: Follow Parsa on Twitter at @Smith_J1989.

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