By Marissa Lackey
The forecast for the marketing of American menâ€™s tennis isâ€¦ cloudy.
As I arrived at the tournament site, I was greeted by a huge banner with Andy Roddickâ€™s image hanging from the side of the arena. Given that Roddick was not among the dozen or so American players entered in the tournament, this was a sobering reminder of Roddickâ€™s impact on the coverage and marketing of tennis in the U.S., and the uncertainty of the post-Roddick landscape.
Fernando Verdascoâ€™s hot pink Adidas kit is a design triumph.
Make no mistake, Verdascoâ€™s kit is violently, seizure-inducingly loud, but it looks great on camera and in person, it just works. Between the blazing colors, the suggestion of crown feathers created by his faux-hawk, and his impeccable, proud-chested posture, Verdasco reminded me of nothing so much as a brilliantly plumed peacock.
Juan Martin Del Potro is a mind-altering substance.
If seeing him back on court, running around and hitting “That Forehand” made me feel giddy, watching him slowly and languidly move around the court between points took me back to my college days and black lit rooms and lava lamps. On television, his Eeyore demeanor and sloooooooow stroll can be maddening; in person, it is hypnotic.
Milos Raonic is a big kid.
I knew this, but seeing him up close, with his sturdy build and the disarmingly youthful face took me by surprise.
Watching tennis live is tougher than it looks.
For me, watching tennis on television is an exercise in multitasking — at any given time, I’m tweeting, emailing, looking up match statistics, muting/unmuting the television commentary, and anxiously shifting on the sofa. Surprisingly, there are only slightly fewer distractions when watching a match in person. Â Between the Jumbotron, arena announcer, crowd noise, note-taking, and simply observing the constant activity on court, much of the action was a blur. It became even more difficult during the final, when I had to do all of those things and maintain my media presence.
An apology to the (serve) speed freak American television commentators.
My lasting image from the menâ€™s final is of seeing a Raonic serve whiz by and hearing a collective whistled exhale as thousands of heads swiveled in unison to glance at the radar gun. I used to watch Roddick matches on television and roll my eyes at how a big serve could inevitably send Patrick McEnroe into raptures and cause Brad Gilbert to speak in tongues.Â After seeing Raonic in action, I understand the impulse completely.
Poise. If there is one enduring word from the weekendâ€™s tennis, it is â€œpoise.â€ In the Verdasco/Del Potro match, I was struck by Verdascoâ€™s poise and professionalism. He served well, played smart and controlled, and acted like he expected to win. As a longtime Verdasco observer, I wasâ€¦ not accustomed to this. I kept waiting for the rash of double faults or kamikaze forehands, the signs of a signature Verdasco breakdown.Â They never came. Less than 24 hours later, I watched as Verdasco was out-poised by a twenty-year old playing in his first ATP final.
Raonic is a GREAT big kid.
Raonicâ€™s style of play didnâ€™t win me over, but his postmatch interviews did.Â He was earnest, thoughtful, and refreshingly grounded (or, as I tweeted at the time, like â€œRoddick without the edgeâ€).Â I walked out of the interview area with a smile on my face and feeling proud of Raonic and that much more optimistic about the future of the ATP.
Postmatch media interviews with a losing player are always a bit awkward for me, as Iâ€™m never quite sure where to look.Â Making direct eye contact can feel intrusive, even accusatory, so I end up averting my eyes from the wreckage, almost involuntarily. In his media conference after his loss in the final, Verdasco, who is a chatterbox under normal circumstances, talked like a man accustomed to a therapistâ€™s couch.Â He began the media conference obviously still smarting from the loss, soon turned reflective, and was even cracking a few jokes by the end.Â I guess confession truly IS good for the soul.
Marissa Lackey was in San Jose covering the SAP Open. She has been following tennis for 20 years, fanatically for about five.Â Sheâ€™s lived in California for about 9 years.Â Sheâ€™s a native (although she prefers to use the term â€œrecoveringâ€) Texan.