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June 6th, 2007
Now that I'm back in the States and refuse to re-engage normal
society (I'm a star now), I've had time to pluck lessons from my
adventure abroad to serve up al dente to you. Pretend Larry 'Bud'
Melman is reading this to you. Actually don't, he's dead, that would
be creepy. Make that Nicole Richie. Wait, she's dead too. Wait,
she's not? Tick tock.
You don't need to know how to speak French to have your way with the
place. Most people there can make a stab at English, or at least point
you to your seats. Don't let your own ignorance and general lack of
education stop you.
9. Dress in layers. Taking off is sexy!
8. Show. up. early. You can walk the place without the crazy of the crowd and see your favorite players practice.
You'll see things you never imagined possible. Vania King hits with pace (I know!).
You can get to the site from just about anywhere in the city by metro,
all for the low low price of about a buck fifty. That's that much more
dough you can blow in the gift shop (I need those Roland Garros
6. Bring an umbrella!
If you don't have tickets, you can always find a scalper happy to help
you out. At least the first week. If you want to live in a world of
guarantees (you big baby) or want any chance of seeing anything past
the quarters, you might want to go the legal route.
4. Bring sun screen!
In Paris, when someone in the stands yells 'Da da da da DA, dadada dada
da,' you respond 'Allez!' When someone yells "Hit the stupid ball,
Andy, pretend you're out there playing tennis!," he doesn't like that.
Bring a buddy. When you're sitting through a groaner of a match, like
say, oh I don't know, Ivanovic/Olaru (just a random example, ladies,
you two were magic, promise), your mumblings can come off as
conversation. Or you can talk about the weather.
Finally, the biggest lesson I learned...
1. Pay thousands of dollars of someone else's money to go there.
Merci et bon soir.
June 2nd, 20073:06pm (Paris Time)
Every morning, I stow away on a hotel shuttle to get to Roland Garros. Along the way, we're forced to go around the Arc de Triomphe. Anyone who's ever been to Paris or seen National Lampoon's European Vacation knows what a death defying feat this is. Seemingly no rhyme, no reason, just a fleet of cars all merging together in a big mess of traffic, all with the hope of making it out the other side. It's a jolt that negates any need for caffeine. It's my last day, maybe we'll get in a horrible accident that necessitates my staying. But not so bad that I can't be wheeled onto the grounds.
We make it through.
On site, it's bittersweet. My last day. I put it out of my mind. I've got a job to do. My favorite player is playing today. And it's down to two. Shahar Peer and Maria Sharapova, both vicious fighters. I'm sure Maria has a selection of posters for me to chose from. Shahar, I suspect, will be an inkjet print-out. But I could deal. The final criteria is quite simple. They face each other in a match, who do I root for? It should be simple. But it's not. I don't force it. The answer will come.
And then I see her, on the practice court.
Slugging it out with Patty Schnyder, Corina Morariu. Lindsay Davenport's good friend and doubles partner. They won several titles together, including Wimbledon in '99 and Lindsay's last ever title in Bali last year. I get that feeling, the one where you swear you've moved on but then you see your ex's friend at the mall and you realize they're still alive, and worse, still in your blood. It pisses you off and you harden and think, screw you, you don't mean a thing to me. It's all in the past.
But it's not.
Truth is, if Shahar or Maria were up against Lindsay, I'd want total annihilation. A triple bagel with a wet-towel-snap chaser. And I face the fact. I have a favorite player. And no one, at least today, is going to replace her. No matter how hard they, or I, fight. Davenport, 6-0, 6-0 (and at the French!).
Hopefully it's an honor just to be nominated.
It's certainly been an honor to be chosen to have the Average Joe's experience at the French Open. But there's been nothing average about it. More thanks than I could say to the people at the Tennis Channel (they really do love tennis!), and guest judge/lucky charm Jon Wertheim, for making this dream a reality. And, ultimately, thanks to all of you for sharing in this with me.
Okay, enough bathroom breaks. I've got to go. I leave the grounds for the last time. As we drive back to the hotel, we face the Arc again. And the Rotary of Death. I realize it's my last time, I'm a little sad. I'll miss the thrill. It's a lot like the French Open, with weather as consistent as Dementieva's serve (last ditch attempt to talk tennis...). There's a lot of risk. But if you want one of the majors, it's the risk you have to take. No guts, no glory.
Pray I don't have an accident...
June 1st, 2007Reader Feedback
You like me, you really like me. Or at least you're willing to press a button to e-mail me. It's only fair I do the same.
Douglas writes in to ask me to grill Serena, Maria and Shahar on their outfits. I am not that brave. Perhaps I can forward them your email? Mm-hm, that's what I thought.
Paul writes in asking me to scout the players' shoes (you're all so fashion conscious! Is my Carrie Bradshaw-style of reportage inspiring this? As I pondered the issue, Miranda was doing a little pondering of her own...wait, nevermind). To answer your question, I've tried my best, but I'm about as good with sneaks as I am with cars. Plus they're all covered in dirt! That might be a question for Ashley's blog...
Speaking of Ashley, Alison writes in to nominate Ms. Harkleroad for my favorite player. She makes quite a convincing argument. Even includes bullet points. Her blog may not be enough for you, you may need her homepage. Or her home address. Neither of which I'm supplying. Good luck to you!
My mom writes in to say keep up the good work. Thanks mom! Go Sox!
To P. Diddy...er...P. David in L.A., who writes in to tell me I have it all wrong, that my search should be for my favorite MALE player and gives me some options, I remind him that my top choice isn't up for grabs. Until he falls onto his racquet and impales himself (which could be any day), Marat's my dawg. That said, Gonzalez is definitely up there, along with Fed (sorry), Youzhny, Becker and (as I warm up to them both this week) Djokovic and Canas.
To Karen, who wants to know what love Tennis Channel plans to bestow on Guillermo Villas on the 30th anniversary of his French Open win. He's suppoed to get his own blog on tennischannel.com, maybe he'll love himself? Plus if he's anywhere around, you can be sure they'll put him on air. You know how many hours they have to fill with this tomfoolery?
Keep reading, and keep e-mailing. Remember, there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. 4:30pm (Paris Time)
I catch up with Martina (we're tight now, I can say things like catch up), where we talk about more things I can't print. I have secrets with Navratilova! (Americans loooove being part of the in crowd). Anything you want to tell your fans online? "Hello, good-bye, I'm busy." We'll talk later, 'tina.
Doing my usual bounce from court to court (an ADD'ers dream), I find a guy in jeans, big white sneakers and a Yankees cap. I approach him. What brought you all this way? What's it like being an American in Paris? He scoffs in a language I can't place. "Ahm nut Ameericahn." He exhales smoke in my face and walks on (Americans are not respected).
Then I meet a real American. One who wouldn't do anything as rude as wear a Yankees cap: Massachusetts-born Brian. He couldn't get a ticket online so he flew out and risked it. A scalper made his dreams come true. It wasn't outrageously expensive, and considering he had no guarantees, he's thrilled. He's coming back Sat. and Sun to try his luck again. I won't be here Sunday, I consider asking how much he'd buy my credentials for (Americans are entrepreneurial).
Speaking of getting down to business, it's time for today's cut.
I'm down to three contenders for my favorite player. Maria, Serena and Shahar. All wicked fighters, all women who pour their guts all over the court. This is going to be tough. This must be what Tyra Banks feels. "Three beautiful girls stand before me. But only two of you are going to go on to compete for an American's Next Top Player." Where's my weave..?
Maria, you're the all American girl, if the all American girl were 6'2" and had roots near Chernobyl. Shahar, you're exotic, you're strong willed, you can lock and load guns. Serena, neither of your opponents can touch your game. And from what I've seen this week, you may just be one of the most misunderstood women on tour. You speak your peace in a language some people just can't, and perhaps refuse to, understand.
But one of you has to go. Though I'd never say this to your face...
Serena, you're aced.
I love your game, probably more than anyone else's. Those returns of serve alone are insane. But I expect you to win, I don't need you to win. You're in my heart, but you're not in my soul. Maybe if you had multiple personalities like Sharapova. Or could shoot me out of a bazooka like Shahar. As it is, you're just the best player on tour. That'll have to do.
And with that, the last American woman in the draw is out...
(Americans are forgiving)4:10pm (Paris Time)
I wake up to find Marat Safin and Janko Tipsarevic in my bedroom. Their match's final game is stuck on a loop on the hotel's channel 1. It gets to just before match point, and then it starts all over. I continue watching, hoping for a different outcome. Stupid American.
Thomas Johansson and Jarkko Nieminen are waiting for the hotel shuttle. Hearing them talk, I wonder if there are any native English speakers left in the mens draw. An Australian voice calls across the lobby. Ah, Lleyton. You're a flag bearer. Torchbearer. Flag bearer. I've been out of the country a week and already I've lost my command of the langauge.
As I head for the shuttle, my producer Lynn spots me and beams. James, your last day! Mm, no, tomorrow. But nice to see where you're at. I've dropped more than enough hints, lady. Come on, I want my once in a lifetime experience twice!
Americans are so greedy.
On site, I catch some practices. Vince Spadea is hitting on court 9. Doesn't he read my blog? It's cursed! Who's he facing in the draw? Ah, the Bryans. Hit away, my friend.
My backstage pass gets me almost everywhere. Except into one of the main stadiums. After a week, I still haven't quite figured out why (Americans are slow). They hook me up with tickets though, so don't cry for me. Except today I can't find Liz, the ticket queen. And Venus and Jelena are taking the court. Okay start crying. (Still no? Why won't you people be happy for me?!) I'm on the prowl for my tickets when I bump into French Open mixed doubles champion-turned commentator Mary Carillo. A little backstory - we're best friends. At least starting a week ago. I met her the day I arrived and she's been nothing but smiles ever since (what do you want from me, Carillo? Americans are suspicious). So Mary is aghast that I'm not at the match. Even though it's her day off from commentating, she makes me her pet project. I must have on some slammin' cologne. Or look incredibly pathetic. Either way, I'll take it.
She takes me on a hunt for a way in. Along the way, I meet fellow commentator John McEnroe (who she shares her French trophy with). He suggests I just barrel in acting pissed. Awesome. That'll be plan B, John (when E.F.Hutton talks, I listen). We figure out that since I could get to the commentator's booths before, we could try it again. She takes me over, where Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova are calling the match. Is there anyone Mary doesn't know?
After catching some of the match together (if you want to hear true commentary, hang out during the commercial breaks), Mary and I head off, catching up with French Open doubles champ (and Chrissie's ex) John Lloyd on the way out. As the current captain of Great Britain's Davis Cup team, I get some skinny on the state of Brit tennis (damn this confidentialty agreement I signed! Stupid stupid American!).
I realize I have a 500 word limit. I decide to pretend this is part one. (Americans are sneaky).
May 31st, 200710:22 (Paris Time)
The weather can really dictate your day. Rain = yuck. Sun = let's boogie.
I arrive bright and early and dance on over to Court Suzanne Lenglen, where Novak Djokovic is doing a little dancing of his own. At least it looks like dancing. This guy is the ATP's resident contortionist, each swing suggesting a guy who was pulled like taffy as a kid. I bet he can't...no, he just did it. In his press conference, no one asks him how he's so bendy. Where are the true journalists?
Next up on Lenglen, Jill Craybas takes on Maria Sharapova. From the warm-up alone, Maria clearly feels good. Jill looks like she's going to the gas chamber. That's some can-do you've got there Jill. At least try to trick her.
I beeline over to Serena's match, where Venus and Oracene are laughing about something. It can't be that Serena's down 0-3 in the second set (ooh, or can it? Man those two are mean in my fantasy world). I head back to Lenglen to catch Nadal. Serena, Maria and Rafael are three players you never have to worry about collapsing. They may have their moments, but they fight like no others. When they're on, they're too good. When they're not, you're still in trouble.
Not so Amelie. Skill and style can only take you so far. I need fight, something you've been sorely lacking lately. I'll always cheer for you to win, I'll be thrilled when you do, but I can't count on it. And so, Amelie...you're aced.
Venus, I'm thrilled at your progress here so far. And I like your attitude. You certainly can't be faulted for not being a fighter. Ditto Jelena. And you're a ton of fun. But the other contenders left are just too good. Venus, Jelena, you're aced too. I hope we can still boogie.
Two days left, three contenders. Maria, Serena, Shahar. Get your posters ready.9:11pm (Paris Time)
Ah, Paris. So much to see, so much to do. Or so they tell me. Getting here first thing and leaving close to midnight every night (have you been seeing those post times? Look how dedicated I am to you people!), I haven't gotten a chance to really see this fine city. Some of that is due to the rain - with play pushed, there's less to yak about. Some of it is just my inability to leave this place. It's Roland Garros, where would you be? The Louvre? I know.
The Tennis Channel produces a daily wrap-up show, French Open Tonight. It's a set on wheels, parking itself in front of various landmarks within Paris, showing off not just the day's tennis but also what Paris has to offer. I'm invited to check it out. Again, heads will roll.
Besides a segment on Serena going shopping (who paid that bill?), we get French Open doubles champion and current host of the channel's own Open Access, Murphy Jensen. He's dressed as Napoleon. Of course he is. The main segment is a discussion on why American men have such trouble on the red stuff. After going 0-9 in the first round, apparently it's a subject of interest. The panelists: famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri and Jose Higueras, a two-time French Open semifinalist and one time coach of F.O. champs Jim Courier and Michael Chang. And current coach to a certain Ms. (who?) Shahar Peer.
I skip all Jose's personal accomplishments (yeah yeah, congrats) and, after telling him about my search for a new love, ask what Shahar has that the other women don't. Without commenting on any of the others (well played, Higueras), he says, "Out there, on the court, Shahar will always give 100%. She'll fight til the past point." I don't get a chance to ask Nick to choose between Maria, Jelena, Venus or Serena, all of whom have spent time at his famed academy in Bradenton. Besides being disappointed in not hearing Daddy pick a favorite, I'm also lazy. That would've saved me a heap of work.
Production can be a long process. People get hungry. Would I like to tag along for a Chicken Run? Sure, why not. Well, they have many things here in Paris. Apparently chicken ain't one of 'em. And the talent must have chicken! We're in cab after cab, riding all over town for anything that sqwawks. It's amazing what you can find when you're looking for something else. The flower shops, the markets, the Parisian squares where stylish old women walk their stylish old dogs. The smoky cafes where lovers hold hands while blowing cigarette smoke in each other's faces. Ah, l'amour. The full bar menus (which of course we walked past without stopping...urp).
We find chicken. We save the day. And somehow this tennis show with the emphasis on all there is to see in Paris has ultimately, finally, shown me.
A post script. Apparently there's chicken everywhere in Paris. Heads will roll.
May 30th, 20073:27pm (Paris Time)
Today's Kid's Day at Roland Garros. Because they're the future. Or something.
I take the tournament shuttle with a player who shall remain nameless (which destroys me, I'm all about names). He's asked who chaired his match the day before (ooh, he played on Tues.! That narrows it down...) and he says it was a woman, he doesn't know her name (hmm, he had a female umpire, whittles it down some more...). He says she was nice and good at her job. Girl power! He then says it was a clay match though, so it's easier. Ouch. I walk onto the grounds with Alison Lang. I wonder how she'd react hearing that.
It's a full day of tennis. Maria leads off on Chatrier. It starts to sprinkle. God hates kids. Oh, it stops. God loves kids. I watch some of Shahar's match. Kuznetsova's as well. Their opponents hit hard. These girls hit harder. You really have to see it to believe it. Don't get me started about the men.
Shahar's press conference is a first for me. I usually sit in my little high chair and say nothing. There are actual journalists here with actual questions, I'm not trying to take food out of anyone's mouth. Until it becomes clear there are no English-speaking journalists there. Shahar's never going to reach the people with such limited exposure. It's just not fair! In the silence, I lob a question. It's Kid's Day today, why should they put her poster on the wall (on in their locker, ahem) as opposed to the other up-and-comers on the tour. She doesn't toot her own horn, reponding that kids will like who they like. It would be great if they liked her, because that means they like what they see on the court. All she can do is be herself and do her best. Well spoken for such a young person. On with the Hebrew.
Maria takes her match in a tiebreak and is on her way to the Main Room. While the crowd gathers, Chakvetadze is religated to the Interview Desk. Apparently she has more fans in cyberspace (do they still call it cyberspace?). Maria arrives. Now this is a trip. In English, she's the Maria we see on TV. Large and in charge, a bit above mere mortals. Then they take questions in Russian. The room clears, but this I need to see. I'm glad I stayed. Maria transforms before my eyes, from All American to something different. Her voice drops, her head drops. She becomes demure, almost (dare I say) childlike? This is bizarre. Is it that she wants to be accepted by the Russian press? Is this how she has to be? Or is this the true Maria? Who is this woman in front of my eyes!
Anastasia Myskina's next. After a tough first round loss, people really wanted to hear what the former French Open champion has to say. Her injury has been tough, she could be a big baby about it. Throw a tantrum. Let me say, she rocks it. She's sweet and salty, a stoner's dream. Reporters love her. I love her too. Why weren't you on my list? Come back when you're healed, Anastasia. We could have something.
In the meantime, it's time for my next cut. It's a tough one for me, because I definitely dig her. She's cool, she's a jock (I like those). And she wears those sunglasses like nobody's business. But she's too much of a grown-up for me. I like a little more playful in my player. Alas, Sam Stosur, you're aced.
Them's the breaks, kid.
May 29th, 200711:10 (Paris Time)
How did I get in here? And who's going to get fired as a result?
I'm in the Tennis Channel's commentators booth. The power station where the elite in on air talent meet to tell you what's going on in a match and what to think about it. Was it poor shot selection or nerves? Do they need to go for their shots or cut down on errors? Which side is going to break down first? Tell me!
This particular power station is the size of a broom closet.
Barry MacKay and Ian Eagle are calling the Baghdatis/Grosjean match. Or at least they're on stand-by to. The powers that be are going live with Roddick. Apparently Darwin's Theory applies not just to the interview rooms, but on the court as well.
With all the downtime, Barry and Ian are stuck talking to me. I grill them about what really goes on in the booth during a match. When they refuse to tell me about the drinking games and the wet t-shirt contests (fess up, liars), I decide to start leading. Surely every match isn't a gem. What happens when one of them isn't playing too good? Or worse, neither is. How do you pass the time? (drinking! say it!) They crack, and I get the true skinny. Apparently when the going gets rough, they toss out some trivia to keep us interested. Did you know Anna-Lena Groenefeld only has one kidney? Or Vince Spadea plays the mandolin? I made those up. But it worked, I was totally distracted. So next time someone starts talking about something random (maybe even true!), remember that.
Suddenly, we're going live. Roddick's split sets and they're cutting to Marcos and Sebs. Barry and Ian snap to it like pros. Barry's been at this for decades, his voice as familiar to tennis fans as James Earl Jones'. Suddenly I'm wondering, do people ask him to do their outgoing voicemail message? Should I? I wonder something else. What if I just...I don't know...pull Ian's chair out from under him. Or grab a Mic and yell 'Howard Stern!' What would happen? I begin to question my sanity.
As they close out the set, Ian mentions it's Grosjean's birthday today. Uh-oh, trivia. Sure enough Sebastian's stinking up the joint. Or is Baghs just playing better? Tell me!
I thank them for their time and say my good-byes. There's still time to yank out a chair. But just like that, they're back to Roddick.9:30pm (Paris Time)
I'm on the hunt for greatness.
I've got seven...make that eight players in line for my New Favorite WTA-er. Jelena, Maria, Nadia, Serena, Shahar, Sam, Amelie and recent addition Venus. Make that nine, as the final qualifier makes the draw. Though Rick made a convincing argument for Lady Hair herself, Anna Chakvetadze, and much love was heaped on up-and-comer Caroline Wozniacki, the overwhelming reader's choice is (where's that damn music?)...NICOLE VAIDISOVA. She's young, she's got power to spare and legs for days.
The draw is set.
This vicious bloodsport called fandom got me thinking. What makes a player pop? What separates the good from the Oh my God she's on court now run run run?
I got to Roland Garros first thing. Nadia and Nicole practice on side by side courts. When the men practice, they seem really focused, not noticing who's watching. The women notice. Nicole is all business. Nadia is all emotion. A good shot gets a smile, a bad shot gets a thigh slap. Really, Nadia, this early in the morning? Sometimes I like all business, sometimes I like emotion. Which will win out in the end? I have little time to think about it when Sybille Bammer, warming up in the walkway, nearly takes me out with her jump rope.
Shahar is on a back court. Just watching her makes me smile. I want to pinch her cheeks (that's right, I said it). It's that intangible thing I'm talking about. Either you've got it or you don't. And it's certainly subjective. Maybe you don't want a fistful of Peer cheek. That's your bag, not mine.
(As promised, I pass by Elena Dementieva practicing some serves. As she gears up, I sense her team suddenly acting overly nonchalanant. No stress, Elena! She gets the first seven in. Nice. But the minute she starts adding pace, they start to spray. They call it a day.)
On to some matches. But first, a confession. I haven't sat through an entire one yet. And I can't blame the rain. I'm learning that the first week of a slam, if you want to see your favorites, chances are they're not playing each other. So I start with Nadia, clearly struggling. It's painful to watch, so I head over to watch Jelena. The photographers snap away with every move she makes. To those of you who play, imagine every time you toss the ball to serve or wind up to hit a return - click click click click click. Ridiculous. But people are buying those pics. And yelling to her from the stands like you wouldn't believe. Fans give what they get. She plays, they play back. Pop.
I hit up Jelena's post-win press conference. Reporters love her. She isn't calculated, she just says what comes to mind. She's easy. Fed's tougher. After taking control of Michael Russell, he takes control of his interview room. The reporters packed inside know who's the boss. And no, Mirka is not there. Not a ton of personality from Fed, but definitely presence. Pop.
Nadia crashes out. No Interview Desk for her. I head over to hear what she has to say. She's injured but upbeat. I respect that. I also respect her wry sense of humor. And her thigh slapping. She cares. There's so much to like about you, Nadia. But you don't pop. Not yet. You have all the personality, all the game, but something's...missing. And I didn't stick around when the times got tough. Plus, my last relationship ended because of too many injuries. I just can't do that again. And so...
Nadia Petrova. You're aced.
Nicole Vaidisova. You're aced too.
What?! But she just got here! SHOCKING, isn't it? No? Well how about this. She just leaves me cold. She doesn't play with the crowd. She's too young to have any real presence. I don't want to pinch her cheeks. She's a good kid, she'll be fine. She has all of you who voted her in. But she doesn't have me. You understand, Nicole. It's just business.
Two down, seven to go.
May 28th, 200711:01pm (Paris Time)
Rain. Everyone seems so optimistic about it here. Okay, I'll be optimistic too.
I head over to Court 3 in the drizzle. It'll stop, I'll watch Jamea Jackson come back from a long injury lay-off to take on Samantha Stosur. Be positive, Jamea, you can do it. I come into contact with an usher, who kindly tells me the best place to sit. At least I think that's what he's telling me. What does he think I'm telling him? It's amazing how long a conversation you can have with someone who doesn't speak your language if you both make that agreement. It goes on forever. Why won't one of us pull the plug? We're just too nice. The rain pours.
Fans flood the flooding walkways. An opportunity to meet the people. Or at least use them for their umbrellas. The rain stops! Jamea takes the court. And gets hammered. She must not have been thinking positively.
Davydenko's through. I'm on the fence about Nicolay. For a top five player, he seems so vanilla to me. Except even vanilla's a flavor. I decide to be optimistic and hit up his press conference. I sit in My Spot (third row, two seats from the left - yeah, you know me). He does his shpeal. It's amazing how long a conversation you can have with someone who doesn't speak your language if you both make that agreement. It goes on forever. Why won't one of us pull the plug? We're just too nice.
Venus is next. Whew, no Interview Desk for her. I'm curious how her press conference compares with her sister's. I decide to make it a cage match. Hmm, more reporters showed for Big Sis. Point to Venus. They seem less scared of her. Point to Serena. Venus looks like a supermodel. Point to Venus. Both talk about tennis as a business. Point to Richard.
Meanwhile, I sense a trend. First question, first reference to Serena. Third question, second reference to Serena. Sixth question, third reference to Serena... By the end, Serena's been brought up eight times. In Serena's press conference, Venus was brought up once. Point to Serena. Then I realize I'm doing the same thing by lumping them together. Point to lazy journalists everywhere.
The decider, who has the better close. One reporter asks how Richard and Oracene's coaching differs. She says they say the same thing. Which is what? Venus doesn't flinch. "The same thing." Big smile. Thank you. Verdict: a draw.
More rain. And my positive attitude positively nosedives. Is it me? Will I just never get it? Suddenly, a crack in the clouds, and Fed takes the court. I've never seen him play live. All I can say is, wow. The movement, the backhand, the hair tucking, all in technicolor 3-D. I soak in it. Fed-haters, hate me now. Choke on your own negativity. The rain falls again, the match is suspended. Will he even be able to take the court tomorrow?
Can't say. But I'll be here.
May 27th, 200711:15pm (Paris Time)
Several of you have written in to nominate your favorite player for MY favorite player. You're all such sharers. Peter tells me Dementia could provide me with the pain I so desperately need, thanks to the serve. While I can't quite commit, I will go see her practice tomorrow to see if that rumor is true-- that she's firing off aces left and right when no one's looking. Jean Marie rallies behind Vaidisova. But the most votes have come in for someone we all know quite well... Ladies and gentlemen, meet:
CONTENDER #8, Elisabeth Shue! Nope, sorry, I mean the OTHER Williams sister. Venus. (cue sound effects) Unstoppable when she's on. Will she be on tomorrow? Some suicide pools suggest not. Prove them wrong, Vee. Or your time on this list will be tres brief.
Because of the rain delay, not all of my other finalists got to strut their stuff today, either in play or in practice or in sassy press conferences. So you get a reprieve (that's French for You dodged a bullet lady - did I mention I hang your poster?). Tomorrow, each and every one of you are on a court. After that, a SHOCKING DOUBLE ELIMINATION. Which isn't a shock now because I told you.
I'm really no good at this. Maybe I should've stuck with The Babysitter.10:00pm (Paris Time)
Sometimes rain can be a good thing. Just ask Serena. A set down, she roars back to put the smack down on poor Tsvetana Pironkova. I'm courtside. That doesn't really factor into the story, I just thought you should know. I decide to go to Tsvetana's press conference. It's all fun and good to go hear what the winner has to say, but how about the other one? How are they treated? Well, in the dog eat dog world of journalism, not well.
I go to the desk that coordinates those post match interviews. They point me to a door to a room that seats four people. Four people. It's literally called an Interview Desk. Cuz playa, that's all you get. Good Lord, do I have the stomach to sit that close to someone who just blew a one set lead over Serena Williams? Before I had to answer that question (so I still get to be a good person) they announce that she'll be moved to a bigger room. Not the biggest mind you, but "we have more than one journalist asking for her."
The way it works is, during a match, journalists can request time with a player. They pretty much have to do it or risk facing a fine. Which I could see all over Pironkova's face when she walked in the room. Mind you, there were still only eight people there. Losing the match after winning the first set v. Serena makes you newsorthy, but apparently not that newsworthy.
So in she comes, and her eyes are that moist kind of, I'm not crying but I was earlier and just enough time has passed that I can walk into a room and play it off but you know and I know. Truthfully, the threat of a fine or no, I admire her (or any player) for being there. She did the best she could, she was clearly numb. Until someone kindly pointed out that Serena was 30-0 in Grand Slam first round matches. That seemed to alleviate some of the misery. A couple more softball questions and she was escorted out. I felt for her.
On to Serena's press conference. In the main room, with the cameras, the monitors, all the stuff you see on TV. I was curious how Serena would be treated. She has an interesting relationship with the media, would this be a mini-version playing out in front of my eyes, my chance to psychoanalyze this love/hate relationship? Not so fast. She's pretty fun. She's not throwing a party, but she definitely chooses her words carefully, and doesn't just give you what you want to hear. Strong-willed isn't the half of it. She thought players should be compensated for playing another Sunday, sharing in the tournament's profits. Nice.
(Right now, Vesnina is doing her press conference. Did she get the dreaded Interview Desk?)
So we wind down, I've heard and seen nothing unusual. Last question? Being challenged by Pironkova today, does she think there could be more coming from the young woman in the future? She considers, then says rather vaguely, she's ranked 91. Didn't she beat Venus a couple years ago? She didn't do anything with that... Aw, SNAP. "Thanks a lot." And we're dismissed.
Finally, it's announced that Justine is on her way. She's late, arriving just before 9 p.m. We're all exhausted. (I'm sensing a theme to these blog entries...). Oh my God, it's all in French.
Thank you and good night.7:09pm (Paris Time)
Day 1 of the French Open. I'm up and out first thing. Like a kid on Christmas morning or Steven Tyler, I don't wanna miss a thing (stay with me, that's my one and only Aerosmith reference).
I arrive to what I can only describe as Disney World for tennis geeks. 18 courts not including the Big Two, with a 'Main Street' running the length of them. Some of the courts I feel like I'm passing over and over, while others seem like urban legends. Of course, there are souvenir shops every ten feet to pry me of my hard earned dough. I let them. Instead of characters in overstuffed costumes, I find characters with overstuffed tennis bags (ha HA! See what I did?). I track them down in their natural habitat: the practice court. And am I catching some doozys this morning, y'all.
On this court, one of my Contenders, Jelena Jankovic. No muffin basket from her yet. But what a smile. She's really enjoying herself out there. On this court, Anna Chakvetadze (hello again). Across the way, Jill Craybas and Meghann Shaughnessy practice together. Ditto Patty Schnyder and Daniela Hantuchova. I wonder as people snap away if they notice who's getting more attention? Then comes the granddaddy (grandmommy?) of them all. Serena Williams. As I look on at her practice (a light one, she has a match in an hour), it really sinks in what a force of nature she is. I mean, I had an idea. But Richard literally has two guys hitting to her, drilling her. She's just incredible. Chick's got power. Serena Williams, you're still a Contender.
While I continue to scour the back courts like a velvet-wearing pimp for my new favorite WTA-er, my #1 ATP-er has been locked in for quite some time. And he's first up today at Court Philippe Chatrier. And as much as I love Marat Safin, I'm also painfully aware that I need to be there for his debut, because it could always be his tournament swan song. It's just the kind of relationship we have. But he says he loves me.
In my own version of Sophie's Choice, Marat's little sister leads off the day on Court 1. With Serena on Court Suzanne Lenglen. But wait, I can do it all! But wait, it's raining.
Somehow Marat manages to eke out three sets while Dinara and Serena's matches get suspended after one. Pretty sneaky sis. I wonder what Marat has to say about this. I sneak into his press conference and sit three rows from the front. How many of you are hating me right now?
He walks in. To no applause (I have to stop myself). English and French questions first, please. Press fire away. He's pretty subdued. I wonder how subdued Vicente is in his press conference. I wonder if Vicente got his own press conference. Considering it was a straight set win, the reporters seem a little harsh. He takes it in stride. I love his candor. He makes eye contact. The reporters don't get him to lash out with their needling (stop picking on him!) so they're done with him. Now a request for questions in Russian. The room clears. I stay. You leave watching this man speak Russian. One guy monopolizes the Mic. He better be with the Russian New York Times or else he's obnoxious. I haven't understood a word for the last 10 minutes. Talk to me Marat.
The rain hasn't let up. Fans huddle under anything with a roof. Which ain't a whole lot here. Except the stores (conspiracy)? Hours pass. I try to figure out how to download pics from this digital camera (I feel I need proof with you people. You just don't trust me).
Ooh, finally, a crack in the clouds. Pictures later-- Serena's waiting. And you don't keep Serena waiting.
May 26th. 20079:41pm (Paris Time)
My first day was a marathon. I get back to the hotel exhausted and starving. I get as far as the elevator when I find Anna Chakvetadze. That's a lot of hair. I look away (I have manners!), and my eyes land on a couple guys loitering in the lobby. Amer Delic and Robby Ginepri. More hair. Still trying to play it cool, I amble onto the elevator and make my way back to my room.
I turn on the TV, where they have Real Life on the WTA Tour episodes airing on a loop. This episode, Anna Chakvetadze. I wonder, does she know she's on TV right now?
I've been up here for 5 minutes, I've proven I'm cool, right? Back down I go, like an explorer in the wild. Sure enough, they're all gone. I sit with my notebook, looking official.
For who? This is silly, I'm flagrantly stalking. I should go. Score, Marion Bartoli. She cleans up nice.
What's the point of this? If I were at the Sports Chalet, I'd say hi, you rock, sign my chest. But this is their hotel. Did I mention all the manners I have? Ooh! Bec Hewitt. And little Mia. Are they still paying a million dollars for a picture of the wee one or has that ship sailed? More importantly, where's Lleyton? Now I can't leave.
Maybe if I just stepped off for a second and grabbed a snack. Nope! Martina Hingis and Radek Stepanek. They look great together. Is she ever not smiling? Is it impolite to ask? I may never leave this seat again.
Okay, I'm more than making up for my Kohlshreiber debacle from this morning. I'm getting everyone, I hear the ding ding ding of the pinball machine as I rack up the points.
And then I wonder. Who have I missed?
I think about this for three seconds. Martina's still here, I have bigger things to occupy myself with. What does she think of my floating head? She's studying the draw posted in the lobby. Is she figuring out how far she would've gone? Am I stalking her? Or is she stalking me? What are you still doing here Martina?
I'm imagining her as a giant smiling lamb chop when-- Lleyton! Well that was anticlimactic. Did Posh really have a bigger emotional impact that Becks? Which one's Becks again? They disappear together. Tennis is for lovers.
And manners are for losers. I'm goin' to bed.
(and do NOT follow me, Martina. Stalking is rude.)6:20pm (Paris Time)
"I Know I'll Never Love This Way Again (Or Will I?)"
I'm looking for her high and low. But there's no sign of her. It's no surprise really. She doesn't love it here. She's had some good times in Paris, but more heartache. And now she's moved on. And I'm left to try and mend a broken heart.
Lindsay, my Lindsay, you were my first love. While all the flashy girls got the attention, I noticed you. Was it that magnificent sound of the ball popping off your strings? The punishment you doled out, yanking opponents side to side while you stood filing your nails at the center of the baseline? No, the first thing I noticed about you was your mouth. No one did self-flagellation quite like you (yeah, you heard me Marat). Tortured genius is my thing, what can I say. Now you're gone, due to have your baby any day, and I miss the crap out of you. All these draws, I see the most random players make it through because you're not there to put the boot down.
But I can't keep doing this. I can't keep living in the past. I need to move on. What better way to mend a broken heart than sleep around a little?
So that's my goal this week. Find someone new. I'm a fan without a player and it's hella no fun. You Clijsters fans know what I'm talking about. It's going to stop, right here, right now. With an idea I stole from a hot new reality show.
Meet the contenders...
1. Jelena Jankovic. Big game, big mouth. Bring it.
2. Nadia Petrova. Big game, AND she beats herself up. Can I do that to myself again? Bonus points for her dead rubber w/Dmitry in the Hopman Cup final. The funniest hour on TV since the Maldavian Massacre.
3. Amelie Mauresmo. I was there when you won your YEC title. Your game is ballet. I feel like we could drink together..
4. Maria Sharapova. Like a leggy Transformer, there's more to you than meets the eye. You scare me. I like it.
5. Serena Willams. You also scare me. Your AO final was like water to a dying man. TENNIS!
6. Shahar Peer. I think I just like scary women. That fist pump v. Serena at the AO was like a lion's roar. Gimme more.
7. Samantha Stosur. You lucked out getting Lindsay and Amelie back from injury, but you made the most of it. You've got the game. Where's your head at? Let's lunch.
So here's how it's gonna work. I'm knocking one off, Survivor-style, each day. I'm lurking, watching, wondering. Do they have the charisma required? The sheer power and skill? The psychosis? By the end of this week, a new favorite player will be crowned. Her poster gets hung in my locker post haste. (Note to the contenders, I'm highly susceptible to campaigning. I'll be awaiting your Mrs.Beasley's muffin baskets at my hotel room.)
I only have 7 superwomen listed, I'll be here for 9 days so I have room for a couple qualifiers. Email me your pitch
for your fave and the most convincing gets her added to the list.
No muffins required.5:17pm (Paris Time)
I'm a floating head! Look at me up there. Don't I look kindly? Like a modern day Jambi from Pee Wee's Playhouse. Mekalekahi Mekahiney ho, and poof I'm in Paris.
If poof were an 11 hour flight from L.A that not even Ambien could rescue me from.
I've been advised to just stay awake to get on Paris time (they're 9 hours ahead here), so a floating head is exactly how I'm feeling. The perfect time to sit behind a laptop and have a little stream of unconsciousness with all you fine people.
After landing, I took a cab to the hotel, which let me say #1, Tennis Channel ain't cheap, and #2 they neglected to mention this was also a player hotel. I had 10 minutes to change before stowing away in a players car to get here to Roland Garros. Now, I could try to play off what happened next, but this trip will be a waste if I can't be totally honest. Like the sitar in Moulan Rouge (rouge, that's French), in this blog I Only Speak the Truth. And the truth is, I couldn't figure out who the two players with me in the car were. I know what you're thinking, you would've known, they should've sent you to Paris. I feel the same way. Shame. Fatigue and shame. When they spoke in German, I had a good guess who they were. GERMANS! One quick google search and I discover I was in the company of a young Mr. Philipp Kohlschreiber and (I'm less sure) Florian Mayer. But whatever, they're rich and famous and don't need me knowing who they are. Or stinking up their car with the smell of transcontinental flight. Sorry guys.
Arriving on site, it's everything I thought it would be, but just bolder. The crowds are louder (I managed to see a few minutes of a Nadal/Santoro charity match - vamos!), the clay is almost day-glo rust. And the Gods walk among us. Separately I saw Jonas Bjorkman, Max Mirnyi (I somehow thought they'd be tethered), and (this could be dementia setting in) Martina herself behind the scenes. She looked at me with a look that went from half-smile to why are you gawking at me you freak in 0.6 seconds. God she's a good judge of character. Since she's commentating for TTC, I look forward to more awkward run-ins where I can't possily introduce myself. (I'm working up to it, lay off!)
I'm exhausted. My head's spinning. And I've been told that today is the calm before the storm.
I can't wait.
May 24th, 20073:06pm EDT
Bag Check. Your chance to see what that lucky SOB who managed to snag a trip to Paris writing about a lost retainer is packing for the trip. Today on Bag Check, James LaRosa.
...so far, not a damn thing.
I'm going to Paris! Which is pretty phenomenal. Sadly I didn't win a personal packer (cheapskates!), so I'm going to have to weather this storm alone. Speaking of weather (note to self, pack better segues), they're calling for showers. Every day. Don't worry about me, I'll find someplace to keep dry. I imagine Justine Henin and I huddled under a French Open umbrella (available at one of Roland Garros' 15 gift shops
). She makes a joke, Ivan Ljubicic ambles over to see what's so funny. We all share a crepe and just laugh and laugh.
Okay, so showers in Paris last about as long as a tennis movie at the box office. Don't kill my fantasy.
Which, really, is what winning a trip to Paris is. Pure fantasy. Who gets to do this kind of thing? No one. Except, somehow, me. Thanks to all of your votes. So I'm going to show my gratitude by taking up the mantle and reporting for you starting May 28th. Not the scorelines and the agent-fed pap you can find anywhere else. I'm giving you the real nitty gritty, the behind the scenes stuff you really want to know. What really happens at a press conference? How far can you get at Roland Garros not knowing a single word of French (kidding, gotcha Tennis Channel!)? Exactly what do you have to do to get hauled off by security (gotcha again!).
To anyone who wants to go on a little adventure with me, and doesn't mind a bizarre side trip or two, keep reading. I'll be taking pictures along the way, so be warned.
That means you, Justine and Ivan.