Thursday, March 26, 2015

Two days in Parsadise, Part 2: Crashing the Pro-Am

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 two of his two-part report from Indian Wells. See Part One, The Steve & Ivo Show, here.
Viktor Troicki

Another personal highlight of mine was on Saturday when I got access to the practice courts that are closed off to fans. It was late Saturday evening, and there weren’t many players practicing anymore, but I did spot Marcos Baghdatis, who was getting ready for his match against world number one Novak Djokovic, as well as Viktor Troicki. Troicki was just doing drills with his coach, and when he finished I asked him if he needed help picking up all the balls, but he rejected my offer. A few minutes later, I found out he was the tennis ball pyramid making champion. 
When Baghdatis came off the court, I told him to go beat Novak, and he said he'd try his best (his best turned out to be getting only four games off Djokovic). After Baghdatis and Troicki left I then went on the famous Indian Wells grass field, and marveled at how awesome it was. What a cool thing that must be for players; since they play so much tennis, it is probably relaxing to engage in some pickup soccer games with fellow players. At the time, the practice courts were pretty empty and were not being used, so I just went on the courts and did some shadow swings and felt like Roger Federer for a few minutes. The courts even had a nice water jug with cups on each them, a nice luxury for the players, so I grabbed some and felt like Roger even more…except no one was chanting my name or taking pictures of me.
On the pitch
I was about to leave the courts when all of a sudden a bunch of doubles stars and media journalists appeared so I decided to stick around. Wayne Bryan entered along with many doubles stars like Leander Paes, Daniel Nestor, as well as media journalists Ben Rothenberg and Richard Evans. It turned out I had ended up in the middle of a big doubles pro-am hosted by the ATP! (The inaugural ATP World Tour Media Doubles Showdown, to be precise.) ATP CEO Chris Kermode was in attendance and before the event he made a nice speech to everyone. To paraphrase him, “Doubles is an essential part of this sport, and it is important to show the fans how important it is to the sport, and having these journalists interact with the some of the doubles guys will help them also become more aware of how you guys play and how you are off the court.” Wayne Bryan then chirped in that it was the doubles guys who played well at the World Tour Finals while the singles matches underperformed, and he asked Kermode what he thought about the matches in London last year, to which Kermode smiled and said, “On the record, both the singles and doubles matches were fantastic in the year-end finals.”

The players then picked which journalists they wanted as their doubles partners and they split up on four courts playing tiebreakers, with the winners and losers moving up and down. There was a nice buffet with all kinds of food so I headed straight for the brownies, and I saw that British doubles star Dominic Inglot had the same idea. While munching on our brownies, I asked him whether he actually did have a side-chick or if Andy (Murray) was just blabbering. He laughed and stated that he does not have a side-chick and that it was all banter, banter that went wrong. Remembering how genuine Andy and Dom’s reactions were in the interview after their Davis Cup win, I did not believe Inglot.

Paes & Klassen 
enjoying the buffet
I walked away from Inglot and came across doubles partners Leander Paes and Raven Klassen eating some sub sandwiches and bagels. Tennis players have a big appetite I’m learning. I also saw New York Times writer Ben Rothenberg and when I introduced himself he commented that I was a “prime favorite” on Twitter. In another rather amusing experience, I got Canadian tennis writer @StefMylesTennis to unblock me, neither of us remembered why she blocked me although I suspect it may have been my overwhelming “favorites.” One does not usually have an opportunity to confront people who have blocked them so I thought that was interesting.

After a few rounds of the tiebreakers, all the players and journalists got together on two courts and played King of the Court playing some nice doubles games as there was a winners’ court and a losers’ court. Wayne Bryan saw me watching and asked if I wanted to be the lone ballboy on the court and of course I gladly abided. After about a half-hour of chasing down balls and quickly returning them to Wayne Bryan so he could continue feeding, we finished up. Oh and while I was picking up balls, I was responsible for giving updates on the Ferrer/Dodig match for ATP stats guru Greg Sharko since his phone ran out of battery. It felt both weird and awesome that I was the one giving updates to the man who is known for his amazing stats on men’s tennis.

After we finished up King of the Court, everybody gathered around as Wayne Bryan thanked everyone for coming and said how awesome it was for the journalists to interact with the doubles stars and also play with them. He also commented that all across America on Saturday and Sunday mornings, the majority of club players are always playing doubles so it is important to keep bringing awareness to the doubles players on tour as well. Wayne Bryan is a fantastic ambassador for the sport of doubles, as are his sons, who just so happen to be the greatest doubles team of all time. Mr. Bryan also said something interesting in that he never wants to know who the Bros play right up until a few minutes before the match. Therefore, I made the smart decision not to tell him that they faced Anderson/Melzer in the first round. Before he left, he insisted that I take $20 for my efforts as a ballboy, which I thought was unnecessary since it was very fun for me to do, but he didn’t leave until I accepted the money. 

Reflecting back on this great experience, it was wonderful to meet some of the doubles guys on tour as the singles players are generally the ones in the spotlight. The majority of club players across America are doubles players and it is important to continue to keep bringing awareness to professional doubles.  Most doubles matches are not streamed, even when the courts have cameras. One match on Stadium 1 between Wimbledon doubles champions Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock against the Bryan Brothers was not able to be streamed, leaving many fans disappointed. Instead of showing the doubles match, ESPN showed old Serena Williams matches while Tennis Channel was showing a Tennisoraphy on Tomas Berdych. There are obviously guidelines the networks must follow which did not allow them to broadcast the doubles matches, but efforts should be made to promote doubles so fans can become more engaged and so that more exposure is brought to professional doubles. 

The ATP has done a great job in the past year showing the majority of challenger matches around the world online through a streaming website which has definitely brought more attention to the grinders of the challenger tour. Although I love watching the challenger matches and think that it's great they are being streamed, I wonder why there has not been enough efforts made to also show doubles matches. These guys are integral to the sport of tennis as well. In addition to less TV time, doubles players also receive less prize money than singles players. Other than at majors or in Davis Cup matches, doubles has no-ad scoring as well as a supertiebreak in lieu of a third set making it fast-paced and more exciting. Indian Wells always gets many singles players to enter in the doubles event since it is a two-week long tournament and also since they get a day off in between singles matches. With many top singles players playing doubles, this brings a lot of attention to the doubles which was great to see.

After the event was over, I ran into Mr. Sharko again and I told him that Ferrer had just won 7-6(6) in the third set, and he wondered if he had saved any match points, so I told him we could check and I pulled out my phone. He commented that unfortunately the ATP app (by the way he is the ATP Communications Director) didn’t show point-by-point scoring, but I showed him a third-party app which did indeed have point-by-point and he was fascinated. So I told him the name of the app and recommended that the ATP include a point-by-point feature. After I said my farewells to all the wonderful people I had met, I made sure to grab one more brownie on my way out.

Editor's note: Everyone should follow Parsa on Twitter: @Smith_J1989. It's an experience you'll never forget.

The Pros
The Ams
Dom Inglot
Ross Hutchins and Wayne Bryan

Ben Rothenberg
Let's huddle up, boys and girls

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