My 2012 Tennis Top Ten
Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
The end of 2012 marks the end of my first full year as a blogger. This scribbling also marks the blog’s 500th post. Milestones abound. Here’s my memories of 2012 laid out as a nifty quasi-top ten just in time to say my final goodbyes moments before the Mayan calendar runs out.
As the name Tennis East Coast would portend, I traveled to Charleston, Newport, DC, New Haven, New York, Charlottesville and Atlanta to cover events in 2012. I mostly stayed in cheap hotels to keep costs down. Those experiences could spawn a top ten list of their own, and it’s possible that some of the cities in which I stayed reflected on my tournament experiences. Like the guy at the front desk in an unnamed city who told me “the hotel internet don’t work real good when it rains”.
To the list:
1) My Biggest surprise (TIE) : Loving the Washington Kastles and the success of a combined WTA/ATP event in Washington.
When I found out that Legg Mason was replaced as the corporate sponsor and that the new event had consumed Maryland’s only tournament, the WTA CitiOpen, I was devastated. That meant one less week of tennis for local fans and the loss of the last Maryland link to the DC ATP event in the sponsorship of Baltimore-based Legg Mason. It all changed for me by actually attending the tournament. The focus was still squarely on the men, but that meant unprecedented access to the women. The new show court at Rock Creek Park and a Saturday night women’s final made for a memorable experience that will only get better with age.
When I finally decided to go to a Kastles match, I was a long-term skeptic on world Team Tennis. I’m a pro tournament guy of any denomination. I want points for the winner, a trophy and an over-sized check. And I want it all done within a week. I figured it was the closest thing to an exo without being Pam Shriver’s Baltimore Tennis Challenge (which I used to attend) where pros played Oriole legends. And where Maria Sharapova showed up in jeans and phoned it in. How mistaken I was.
Instead, it’s fired-up pro tennis, with the big names among the lesser-knowns. Those lesser-knowns are the ones who really put on the show. It’s uber competitive for those who rank inside and outside the top 100. The fans are raucous, the little stadium guarantees that everyone can hear everyone else, it’s on the water, and it’s the ultimate in family friendly tennis. Not to mention, the Kastles are the elite team in World Team Tennis. In the words of a famous former California Governor, “I’ll be back!”
2) My Favorite meals at tournaments: Charleston/New Haven. Tournaments feed their media in two different ways, so I have two winners. Some provide a bag lunch. Some cater into the media tent. While the food ran delectable at most, one catering job stood out above the rest. Charleston’s chef stuck to ribs, barbeque and corn muffins with artisanal cheeses. Other offerings included home made soups with fresh baguettes. You never needed to leave the grounds to get the best Charleston had to offer.
The New Haven Open did it differently. They privatized it by giving you a $12.00 lunch voucher each day to use at the ‘food court’ erected on outer courts. My wife is from Rhode Island and I am a snobby Maryland seafoodie. Imagine my surprise when I tasted some of the freshest tender clam strips in my life, and I was eating them at a pro sports event. Later, I tried and loved the grilled cheese with a homemade Gazpacho. You don’t need credentials to enjoy the offerings at New Haven. Just bring an appetite.
3) My Favorite tournament: Family Circle Cup. This is the toughest category, because all tournaments are a blast. With the camaraderie in the press room, the all-access media hour with the top 8 seeds, the daily trivia contests, the great big little stadium, the aforementioned grub, the media tennis tournament and former Media Director Mike Saia (who we will all miss), Charleston offered the biggest bang for the drive down 95.
4) My Least favorite media center/grounds: New Haven Open at Yale. The gargantuan mothership stadium houses the huge mostly empty media center in its bowels three flights of stairs down from the tennis upstairs. It was the quietest media room I’ve ever entered and the worst. There was little chatter or camaraderie among the media, except for the constant smarmy bantering of three caddy media boys about how Melanie Oudin had gained weight. Seriously, this is ALL they talked about for three days and it made me sick to my stomach.
5) My Favorite grounds: Newport. The old Casino and Tennis Hall of Fame event is the photo-perfect setting for shooting tennis, family and wooden scoreboards that blow over. If you get a free moment, you happen to find yourself in one of the greatest summer destinations in the world, just minutes from history, beaches and shops. It’s also as open as a Challenger in terms of fan access. The players are all on display in the open-air player’s lounge, so if a fan wants an autograph, she won’t have to wait long to stake out her favorite.
6) My Favorite interview: Andrea Hlavackova. When I spoke with Andrea Hlavackova in Charleston in early April, neither of us knew that she was about to become (almost) a household name. Her silver medal exploits were still a few months off and she was a lucky loser at the Family Circle Cup. She warmed up to me when I wanted to talk about her hometown and her brewing legacy, which was not well-known at the time. Her family story has been repeated many times now in the big league press and I like to think I got that ball rolling. It’s now the #1 most read interview on this blog. I’ve asked a lot of players about their love for their hometown and none reacted with such effusive praise than Hlavackova. Go Plzen!
7) My favorite tennis blog colleague: Mike Barber of WTAToday.com. Not only has Philly Mike provided excellent exhaustive coverage of the tour, he’s also been a great resource as an early adopter of everything web-related. He’s taught me about self-hosting, reddit and google plus. I’m behind the times. He is not. He’s also become a good friend and I’m watching his latest project with wide eyes: as President of the USA Eintracht Frankfurt Football Fan Club.
8) My favorite moment(s) of 2012: They happened within the same hour. First, standing on Ashe interviewing Carly Rae Jepsen at Kids Day, who clearly knew very little about tennis despite being mobbed by the tennis press and (2) watching US Open Media Director Jean Marie Daly push back against pushy photographers who had decided their own pecking order. Some of the NYC photographers had decided that only the ones who had signed up on their own list would get the prime positions for shooting. They complained loudly to Ms. Daly, who shot back, “Your list means nothing to me!” and let the little people keep their spots. She could run a day care or a country and the USTA is lucky to have her. Well played.
9) My favorite media director: (Male) Mike Saia, (Female) Anne Marie McLaughlin. Family Circle’s Cup Mike Saia served as a fantastic media host at Charleston for the reasons mentioned in #3 above. Besides, he was knowledgeable and highly approachable. Same goes for Newport’s Anne Marie McLaughlin, who catered to the bloggers and treated us like equals. She not only invited bloggers to the exclusive, members-only draw ceremony, but graciously allowed us to help pick the draw, too. She’s hard-working, fun and really seems to enjoy the different perspectives that bloggers bring to the table. Bravo!
10) My biggest breaking story of 2012: Tweeting that top seed Aga had withdrawn from the Family Circle Cup. Someone announced it in the media center and I sent it to the tweeps. It was almost an hour before the story appeared on mainstream news sites and it always reminds me that micro-blogging is so much more fun than macro-blogging.
That’s a wrap for 2012. The experience was unforgettable and I hope you’ll have me back in 2013. Except to that one place that I don’t think I’ll return. The Days Inn in West Haven.