This is a shot my brother took of me at the Cincinnati tennis tournament. Yes, that was my seat, too, right behind the service notch on the Grandstand court, where I sat to watch the two doubles finals today. I saw the first set of Murray-Djokovic from some nosebleed seats in Center Court, but I was really stoked to watch the doubles, and I got the best seat in the house: front row seats behind the baseline. I rested my foot on the tarp in front of me and felt every ace (and fault) thump home. I caught a stray ball (had to toss it back of course). I had a great view of all the action. And there was a lot of it, because doubles has it all: volleys, lobs, great passing shots, awesome serving.
In order to keep that prime seat, however, I had to remain planted in it, and I did… through two rain showers. I got thoroughly soaked each time. The photo below shows a small army of ball kids drying off the court in the middle of the ladies’ doubles (I wish I had about 20 of them to dry off the court I play on!) My brother scurried over to catch most of the Jankovic-Sharapova women’s final, but I don’t really care about either of those players, and I wanted to keep my seat for Llodra-Zimonjic vs. Bhupathi-Paes, so I stayed put and got rained on.
Before the men’s doubles final, I watched the women’s doubles. Vania King and Yaroslava Schvedova won, beating Natalie Grandin and Vladimira Ulirova. Grandin, a tall and muscular lady from South Africa, has also been runner-up in 9 previous doubles tournaments dating back to 2006, but has never won a WTA doubles tournament. I usually root for anyone who has a sob story like that — I always pulled for Goran Ivanisevic and Jana Novotna, and was one of the tiny minority supporting Vera Zvonareva against ‘Pova on Saturday night — but I didn’t find out about Grandin’s sad history until this evening, so I cheered for tiny Vania King instead.
The men’s doubles final was what I came to see, however, and it was worth the wait.
I was really impressed with Llodra, who has a killer lefty serve that befuddled the two Indians all match. Paes, however, took over the match. He is a slightly diminutive bundle of competitive fire, and I’ve never seen a doubles player with better instincts or more daring. It doesn’t hurt that he has a classical Greek name. I was surprised to find out that he is two years older than I am, and that he won a bonze medal in singles in the 1996 Olympics. He and Bhupathi beat the #1 seeded Bryan brothers in the semis to earn the right to play Llodra-Zimonjic. Paes took over the match with the Bryans, too, dominating the 10-point super-tiebreak at the end. He’s quite an intense character and a great player.
There were several occasions when Llodra and Paes faced off at the net together. One time they both slammed a series of hard volleys across the net from about 10 feet away from each other. That was thrilling. Paes won that one, and the Indian crowd erupted in delight. On another occasion, Llodra and Paes deliberately eschewed passing shots or hard hitting to exchange drop volleys with each other. Llodra won that. He has such exquisite touch. On a third occasion, Paes hit a shot that clipped the net cord and just died, but Llodra got to it in time, and somehow returned it from where it had fallen just inches beyond the net. He lost the point, though.
Zimonjic is a great player too, but he had a very bad day at the office, committing three errors in the second set tiebreak to lose the match for him and Llodra. I think the huge crowd of very vocal Indian fans gave Bhupathi-Paes a sort of home court advantage, and maybe annoyed Zimonjic a little bit. My wiseacre brother went against the flow as usual, punctuating the crowd’s yells of “Come on, Leander!” and “Let’s go, Mahesh!” with his own loud “Allez, Llodra!”
It was a bad day for Serbia. Djokovic, Jankovic, and Zimonjic are all from Serbia, and all lost finals.
A bit of icing on the cake was the pleasure of recognizing various officials. Grant saw Kader Nouni take the umpire’s chair for the JJ-‘Pova final, and I knew Eva Asderakis, the chair ump from Crete with her large Greek nose and blonde ponytail. I didn’t know that chair umpires had to help dry off the court. Eva did so, even taking a towel to the tape on the top of the net:
I was most pleased with myself for recognizing Shino Tsurubuchi, the little line judge down whose throat Serena Williams threatened to “shove this ball” after she called a foot-fault on her in the semifinals of the 2009 US Open. And she was sitting in the same place!
I enjoyed all the matches greatly, and I think I can call myself a committed doubles fan now that I’ve sat through two rainstorms to keep my seat while the singles finals were going on.
Thanks, Grant, for coming with me! Can’t wait ’till next year.
US Open starts in 8 days. Go Kvitova, Federer, Serena, Murray, and Bhupathi-Paes!