12 December 2014

Reliving tennis history through a stack of VHS tapes

I recently took a major walk down a tennis-filled memory lane thanks to a project I stumbled upon while I'm staying at my childhood home. I've been intent on decluttering the house, and I couldn't keep harassing my mom to throw things out when I knew I had a huge container full of tennis tapes that was taking up a heap of space.

Feeling brave a few weeks ago, I opened the container and peeked inside. The container was packed full (plus there were more tapes that couldn't fit in the container) and in order to take stock, I sorted them by year to see what I was dealing with. I was shocked to see there were about 80 videotapes. As Dick Enberg likes to say: "Oh my."

I couldn't just throw these tapes out - this is my tennis past, the documentation of many years of my tennis obsession that began in 1990 with Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati and Andre Agassi. There was no way I could just sit and watch every tape, so I looked into ways to convert the video tapes and thanks to some help from Chris I purchased a video capture device then dove head first into a mass VHS-digital conversion project to save these precious tennis moments. I'm thankful my parents still have a trusty VCR and that I didn't break it during this process!

2001 was a good tennis year
I started my project with the biggest stack of tapes from the 1999-2002 tennis days, and as I went through each one, I was reminded of where I was in life when each match happened. For example, the night before I flew to Beijing to live for what would be two years, I was up all night watching Agassi win the 1999 French Open (it was shown on tape delay for years in my area due to the Jerry Lewis telethon). There was the 2000 Chase Championships match between Seles and Martina Hingis, which I recall watching with one eye open in the middle of the night in Beijing hoping Seles would win (she didn't).

I returned to the US from China in mid-2001, so I found heaps of matches taped from the 18-month period when I was back in the US (I moved to South Korea in late December 2002). This time period coincided with the Williams Sisters being the talk of the tour and I was (and still am) a huge Williams fan so I had a lot of their matches and interviews.

I'm thankful my mother is also a tennis nut, as I worked at a summer camp in Pennsylvania in 2002, so all the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open matches were ones she recorded and saved for me. Because of her, I found gems like this from 2002 Wimbledon, when Serena talked about how much she wanted to win Wimbledon (and she did win the first of her five titles that year):




The more matches I got through, the more I realized the best part of these tennis tapes were all the fun interviews, player montages and preview pieces to highly-anticipated matches.

It was surreal to relive the Hingis vs Williams Sisters drama, commentary about suspected 'family' match fixing and their brashness to declare they wanted to be #1. I'm happy my project spurred on this post from David Kane of The Tennis Island, who looked back at what a key time 2001 was in the women's game. This period was one of my favorites in WTA history - there was no shortage of drama!

In addition to all the tennis matches, I loved seeing old commercials including Jennifer Capriati's Oil of Olay commercial from 1991, and Agassi's Rock and Roll Nike ad with the Red Hot Chili Peppers that same year. And the music played during montages and match highlights were hysterical, as were the progressions of hairdos on Chris Evert and Mary Carillo.

But along with revisiting my fond moments, darkness was also part of the reality of such an undertaking. Most tennis fans have matches they never want to hear about again, but as a Seles fan, it's so painful to relive the awful events around her stabbing in Hamburg in 1993. I was such a huge Seles fan so going through a tape of her news conference and coverage of the attack was pretty hard. There was also an in-depth feature on her on CNN which aired 4 months after the attack. Those days were hard to relive, but I still wanted to preserve them.

Less harrowing was revisiting some of the tough losses my favorites endured. I think the hardest match I found to relive was Seles' loss to Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario in the final of the 1998 French Open. Monica was the ultimate feel-good story in that tournament. She'd just lost her father to cancer and crushed then #1 Martina Hingis in the semifinal to advance to her fourth French Open final. She had a 14-2 record against Sanchez-Vicario, but ended up losing in three sets. That match hurt me at the time, and it still does. It was so wrong that the tennis gods couldn't give her that final after all she'd endured. Seeing this match led me to ask Tennis Twitter what one match they would change the outcome to if they had the power. I got some fun responses - for me, I believe this match would be my #1 choice.

Then there was rewatching Agassi play his final Wimbledon match against Rafael Nadal in 2006, and his last tournament at the US Open that same year. I admit I had tears (again) as I watched my first ATP-love retire in front of a loud New York crowd who had always cheered so loud for him. It's amazing this happened more than 8 years ago.

Once I survived those emotional turmoils, I tackled one last group of tapes - from 2005 to 2009. I lived in New Zealand during this entire period, so my tennis-loving mom had about 10 tapes of matches. I wasn't worried about preserving the matches as so many are on Youtube from this period, but I did want to save the interview clips special to US coverage and features. One of the best was this piece on Nadal and Federer which aired during one of the rain delays during the legendary 2008 Wimbledon final.



It took me around two weeks to sort through the 80 tapes that have taken up residence in my parents' home, so it certainly was a time-consuming process. I was often afraid to fast forward through chunks of tapes because often the hidden gems were shown during other matches. But I'm lucky I had the time and will to do this. I love sharing tennis memories with others, whether it's over a beer during a tournament or through reliving my live tennis experiences on this blog.

I will continue to upload videos to my Youtube Channel here but some of the full matches may have to wait as it took around 10 hours to load one of the most popular videos I've put up: "Diary of Serena Williams" show which aired on MTV in 2002.



I have been thanked by many of the Tennis Twitter family for posting the videos (over 150 already!), and although I did this for myself, it's been wonderful to share so many great past tennis moments with the global tennis community.

25 November 2014

2014 - Live tennis highs and lows

The tennis season is officially over, though many players are extending their year with exos all over the world. For me, however, I think my tennis viewing for the rest of 2014 will be classic matches I recently found stashed in my parents' house:
This was a strange tennis year. We had no clear, dominant player on either the WTA or ATP and both tours were a bit less predictable. Who would have thought Stan Wawrinka would win a slam over Rafa Nadal in Australia? Or that Marin Cilic would win a slam? Or that Serena Williams wouldn't advance past the 4th round until the US Open? Or that Li Na would retire in a year which saw her win a second Grand Slam? Or that we would barely see Juan Martin Del Potro? But at least the year-end championships restored some order, as both World #1s won their third straight titles at the event.

My goal every year is to attend one new tournament, and this year I overachieved and went to three new events: Miami, Montreal and Singapore. So, my 2014 live tennis season was as follows (no wonder I don't have any money!):
  1. Sony Open - 9 days
  2. World Tennis Day  (NYC) - 1 day
  3. Hall of Fame Championships, Newport -  2 days
  4. Citi Open, Washington DC - 3 days
  5. Coupe Rogers - 2 days
  6. US Open - 18 days
  7. WTA Finals - 7 days
I also squeezed in a US Open tour in the spring (highly recommend - my thoughts here).

All in all, it was a fantastic year for this tennis fan, and here are a few thoughts about the best and worst live tennis experiences I had in 2014:

Best crowds: 
Singapore - for a first-time host, I was impressed by the crowds in Singapore. I thought the atmosphere was great from the first to the last match. The fans loved the access at the practice courts and seemed genuinely excited about having the WTA's biggest stars around.

Montreal - I raved about the enthusiastic crowds my post here, but months later I can still feel the excitement as they welcomed the players. The crowd on hand was a record:


Favorite matches: 
Maria Sharapova vs Lucie Safarova, Miami - it took Maria nine match points to see off Lucie, 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-2 and it was a great battle. Lucie had a pretty solid year, and when she's playing well she will trouble any top player. She fought off two match points before taking the second set in a tiebreaker and then fought off 6 match points while down 2-5 in the third before Sharapova finally won. The crowd was going nuts in that last game - it was incredible.

Rafa Nadal vs Milos Raonic, Miami - the wind during some of the matches at the Sony Open this year was out of hand. I remember this match just being crazy - such gusts of wind and often it was just comical in terms of how to ball was bouncing and coming off both players' rackets. But I was very impressed with Milos' ground game and it was good for Rafa to get a sterner test as at this stage of the tourney he'd dropped a mere nine games in three matches. Rafa beat the windy conditions and Milos in three sets, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Lleyton Hewitt vs. Ivo Karlovic, Newport - quality wise I don't think this was up there with matches of the year, but it had drama. Hewitt had been up a set and served for the match in 2013, but lost in three to Nicolas Mahut. This year, it seemed we were going to see the same ending. Hewitt served for the match in the second set but ended up winning the tournament in a third-set tiebreak by a score of 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3). Hewitt was in the final for the third straight year, and to see him finally win the event at age 33 was fantastic.

Venus Williams vs Serena Williams, Montreal - I made a last minute decision to attend the Coupe Rogers and I was rewarded with one of the best sister matches in their pro careers. Their 25th battle was fantastic. The crowd was amazing when both ladies were introduced and all throughout the match. I felt very lucky to have witnessed Venus' 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-3 win. My recap.

Kei Nishikori vs Stan Wawrinka, US Open - I actually logged most of this match as I worked for ESPN during the US Open (I wrote about my logging experience here) and therefore watched every single stroke for the majority of the match until my shift ended and I was able to race into Ashe to see the last few games. This quarterfinal lasted 4 hours and 15 minutes and Nishikori was coming off a super late night in his previous match against Milos Raonic which ended at 2.26am. But he still had enough left to outlast Wawrinka in five sets, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (5), 6-4, to make his first slam semifinal.

Serena Williams vs Caroline Wozniacki, US Open - seeing Serena win her 18th Grand Slam was beyond amazing, and even though the match itself (6-3, 6-3) wasn't hugely exciting, what followed was so memorable as we watched Serena try and comprehend the magnitude of her achievement. The crowd saw Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova (fellow members of the 18-slam club) arrive on court before Serena did, and their presence really added to the occasion. The crowd was incredible and so appreciative as they witnessed history.

Serena Williams vs Caroline Wozniacki, Singapore - this was an incredible match. Wozniacki played fantastic, aggressive tennis and had Serena on the ropes. Given the two had been out the night before watching a Mariah Carey concert, it was even more impressive how they could just set their close friendship aside and put on a hell of a show. What a match. Serena barely eked out the win in a third-set tiebreak with a 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory. My recap

Worst matches:
Caroline Wozniacki vs Sloane Stephens, Miami - I was so looking forward to this match and what a bust. Woz won 6-0, 6-1 in 55 minutes and the crowd was stunned. Sloane actually lost the first 13 points of the second set and it was awkward and the tennis world was NOT impressed.

No men's semifinals in Miami - both Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori pulled out of the semis, sending Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal into the final. Per usual, I learned these developments from Twitter and not from the actual tournament where I was. Needless to say, the crowds were shocked. I did hang around to watch the doubles matches but what a bust of a Friday at the Sony Open. Not sure the last time semifinals were both walkovers?

Venus Williams vs Agnieszka Radwanska, Montreal - after Venus had played so well in upending her sister in the semifinal, I was hoping for a great final. But Venus was erratic from the first point, and Aga too good at making Venus hit one more ball (which she usually hit into the net). It was a bit of a bust, but the crowd loved Venus so much that helped ease my disappointment. Still, every part of me wanted Venus to win this big title, and sadly it was not to be as Aga won 6-4, 6-2.

Clearly there were more highs than lows for my tourney action, and we'll see what my 2015 tennis travels bring. Enjoy the offseason!

10 November 2014

WTA Finals in Singapore - tip time!

It's been two weeks since I returned from Singapore, but with massive jet lag and a dead laptop (thankfully now resurrected) I'm very late in recapping my amazing 8 days attending the 2014 WTA Finals.

This was a bucket-list event for me, and having never been to Singapore I'm thrilled I was able to make it happen. Thanks to Tennis Panorama News for the chance to cover the event as media - see my posts here:


Day 1 - Williams and Halep victorious on Day 1 at the WTA Finals

Day 2 - Wozniacki wins thriller over Sharapova at WTA Finals
Day 3 - Halep hammers Williams at WTA Finals
Day 4 - WTA Finals race to the semifinals heats up; Halep first through
Day 5 - Semifinals set at WTA Finals while Serena Williams clinches year-end No. 1
Day 6 - Williams, Halep Set Up Rematch at WTA Finals 

Sadly I couldn't recap the final due to my dead laptop, but here's the site's recap:

Day 7 - Serena Williams Three-Peats at WTA Finals 

Given this is the first year the WTA Championships were held in Singapore, they certainly started with a bang. The crowds were great and the stadium mostly full every day, and they were treated with some great tennis drama over the week.


A few tips for attending:


1) Getting there

Public transportation via the MRT is so easy and pretty reasonably priced. There's a station right to the Singapore Sports Hub (aptly named Stadium) and the cars are clean and air-conditioned! Beware - if the tennis runs late, which it did one night, the MRT doesn't usually run past midnight. I had a taxi nightmare (don't even try to just queue for a taxi - you'll want to book one) that night and didn't get back to my accommodation until 2am. 

2) Food

I was lucky to have meals provided and it didn't seem that the stadium offerings were substantial, so it's great that the Kallang Wave Mall is located right next to the stadium so plenty of options for eating and drinking plus it's a great space to spend time in a/c to escape the heat!

3) Fanzone

Other than the unbearable humidity, spending time at the Fanzone was a great option. There were plenty of activities for kids, regular player autograph sessions, a cool Social Media Wall and tourney/player stats on display. Very well done.

4) Practice sessions

There's an indoor area with three tennis courts and for the most part that's where all practice sessions took place. A few times players did hit in the main stadium which were closed to the public but the practice area was always open (even free to the public the first few days). 


Viewing wasn't the easiest unless you sat up high due to high nets and tarps around the court but overall it was a great setup. Players usually posed for photos and signed autographs on their way out so fans clamored over as soon as they noticed someone new arriving or players packing up to go. The only downside is that you have to undergo a bag search on your way in but the line moves pretty fast. Security were inside and they prevented people from standing too close to the courts for pics, but viewing was plentiful with lots of seats. There was usually a pretty good crowd every time I was there and it was great to see so many excited fans as they rushed for autographs.

Now, Singapore itself! Clean, modern, and crazy crazy humid! Be prepared - I thought it sounded better than the autumn temperatures of the midwest but it was rough.  
As I was primarily in town for the tennis, I didn't see too much of this city, but here are my must dos:

1) Marina Bay Sands area

Most of the players stayed at the hotel, and WTA events (including All-Access Hour) were held here. This is clearly one of the most popular places to be in the whole city. My tips:

      a. Be sure to go into the The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands just to see the grandeur (you can even go on a gondola ride!)





     b. Catch "Wonder Full" Southeast Asia's largest light and water show which takes place just outside The Shoppes. This was a rather trippy show - lots of images shown on water shooting up from the river, all sorts of lights. It's very unique.




c) Walk over the Helix Bridge - great views of the waterfront area.




2) Chinatown

I love going to Chinatowns (having lived a few years in Beijing) and this one is great. A fun mix of cultures including Hindu and one of the coolest temples I've ever seen.  There's a huge street food area (which I didn't partake in), the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and the beautiful Sri Mariamman Temple to visit. 





  














3) Arab Street/Haji Lane

A friend of mine had recommended Haji Lane as a great place to shop and it's full of lots of unique shops and eateries. Nearby is Arab Street and the main reason I went - to see the Sultan Mosque:




4) EAT! EAT IT ALL!

     

So that's my Singapore experience in a nutshell - thinking of going to the 2015 WTA Finals and/or have other questions about Singapore? Ask away!

15 October 2014

WTA-finals bound!

When I visited the WTA Championships stand at the 2014 US Open, I picked up a handout all about the event and "Road to Singapore," with the far-off dream that I may be able to attend.

Well, on Friday I'm heading to Singapore for my first-ever WTA Championships! #bucketlist

Beyond being excited about visiting Singapore for the first time (bring me all the food!), attending and covering the WTA Championships is going to be amazing. I have been to the ATP World Tour Finals (in 2011) and having the best players of the year in one place, facing only each other is crazy exciting.

It's been an odd year on the WTA. With Serena's early exits in 3 of 4 slams this year, (and three losses to CORNET??) the WTA tour has been a bit more unpredictable but with repeat winners at all slams maybe it wasn't as crazy as we thought. The eight ladies who will be in Singapore are definitely all deserving and I am most excited to see who will come out on top. I truly have no idea how it's all going to roll out.

The lineup:

  1. Serena Williams
  2. Maria Sharapova
  3. Petra Kvitova
  4. Simona Halep
  5. Genie Bouchard
  6. Agnieszka Radwanska
  7. Ana Ivanovic
  8. Caroline Wozniacki
The only alternate determined at this stage is Angelique Kerber, who has played the finals the last two years, and either Ekatarina Makarova or Dominika Cibulkova will be the second alternate.

After grinding on tour all year, many players come into Singapore with injury concerns, starting with Serena who had knee issues in Beijing. No word yet that she won't play, and with the year-end WTA #1 ranking on the line hopefully the two-time defending champ will be there. If she's not, she'll lose her #1 ranking which she's now held for 87 straight weeks. 

Halep (hip), Bouchard (left leg), Ivanovic (hip) also had late-season injury issues, but hopefully all were being cautious leading into the WTA Championships. Both Halep and Bouchard will make their WTA Championships debut, while Ivanovic is back for the first time since 2008.

I admit the event won't feel the same without Victoria Azarenka, who had qualified for the last 5 years, but I really hope the draw is balanced and we get some amazing round-robin matches.

The singles draw takes place on Saturday at 5pm, and the always fun WTA All-Access Hour which will be held at the amazing Marina Sands Hotel will be Sunday starting at 9am.

I'm excited to cover this tournament for Tennis Panorama News so be sure to follow along on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/TennisNewsTPN.

Stay tuned!

24 September 2014

FASHION: Ranking Serena's 18 Grand Slam winning outfits

I am no fashionista, so this is actually the first fashion related post I've ever done on my blog.

Serena Williams just captured her 18th grand slam title, and in each of those slams and the 38 other slams she's contest but not won she has always tried to look her best. She's rocked some of the most memorable tennis outfits in history!


But which of her 18 winning slam outfits was her best look overall, taking into count her dress (or bodysuit), hair and accessories? I thought it was my duty to offer my own views of Serena's best slams according to fashion!


Serena won her first slam at age 17 while she was a Puma girl (I miss those days!) and won her last at age 32 mere weeks ago. She's been with Nike since late 2003.


So here's my attempt to rank all Serena's slam winning outfits. Do you agree? Be sure to vote in the best and worst polls and add your comments below!


#18 - 2005 Australian Open (Slam #7)



  

I do like Serena in yellow, but this Nike kit was weird and I did not love Serena's reddish hair. What was that neck adornment meant to be? It looks like a jockstrap. And is that an apron in the front? What in the world Nike.


#17 - 2009 Wimbledon (Grand Slam #11)






This was just a boring dress. And the big blazer she wore over it did nothing for her. Dislike.


#16 - 2002 Wimbledon (Grand Slam #3)




Puma merely changed Serena's black French Open dress to white and I liked it less in white. Also think her roots were a bit overdue so a headband of some kind might have made the outfit less drab.


#15 - 2007 Australian Open (Grand Slam #8)




I know this is one of Serena's best slams but I always hated the lime dress and those huge earrings. The lines on the dress were unnecessary to me.


#14 - 2013 US Open (Grand Slam #17)




Serena's hair and makeup were top-notch at the 2013 US Open, and I love the shade of pink for the top half of Serena's dress but this awful skirt was just...awful. It was so short and flimsy so in the windy Ashe Stadium we saw more of her grey shorts than we did the skirt.


#13 - 2009 Australian Open (Grand Slam #10)




The blue really popped and I liked the yellow accents. I like Serena so much better with longer hair so looking at this look overall I can't really get into the shorter curls, but loved the heart necklace.


#12 - 2010 Australian Open (Grand Slam #12)




It's funny to look back to this pic, which is less than 5 years ago, and notice that Serena is so much fitter than she was before her health scares. I liked the gold color of this dress tho and thought it simple but nice. It helps that she wore this dress while ending the comeback hopes of Henin. Good times.


#11 - French Open 2003 (Grand Slam #2)




    
We just don't see Serena in black enough but I always loved this black and gold Puma dress. Still didn't care for her hair but this dress was fantastic.

#10 - 2003 Wimbledon (Grand Slam #6)




Puma didn't mix things up much for Serena for Wimbledon, as this outfit wasn't far off from her 2003 Australian Open attire. But that color combo still worked great and I loved the belt. The hoop earrings were big but complemented the outfit well.



#9 - 2014 US Open (Grand Slam #18)





This leopard print dress grew on me, but definitely liked it better in the white she won her 18th slam in. The pink accessories were perfect (need to find me some of those wristbands). I'd be happy if she changed her hair as the frizzy blonde is the only thing I didn't like about her most recent slam look.


#8 - 2008 US Open (Grand Slam #9)





Serena in red. This shade of red just popped and just seeing it reminds me of the sheer joy when Serena beat Jankovic to win this title. I wish the headband wasn't quite so thick but otherwise this was a winner.


#7 - 1999 US Open (Grand Slam #1)




The only Serena slam with beads. I loved this Puma dress - the light yellow, the length of the dress was great. I thought the big gold necklace was a bit much but overall this was a great look for the 17-year old.


#6 - Wimbledon 2012 (Grand Slam #14)







I loved the purple accessories and thought this was her second-best Wimbledon look. The v-neck cut was cute and again just loved the 2012 summer hair Serena was rocking.

#5 - 2013 US Open (Grand Slam #15)




This was great dress, and she wore a pink version for the day matches but I liked this better. The dark blue and yellow went great together and I loved the big hair she was rocking in 2012).


#4- 2002 US Open (Grand Slam #4)




The Catsuit. Puma you are so missed. This was actually my first live Serena - and wow.  What can you say about this outfit? It was AMAZING. Loved the light link headband which is in this pic is hiding Serena's long blonde locks.


#3 - 2003 Australian Open (Grand Slam #5)




I loved the bright orange and white Puma had for Serena in Melbourne when she achieved the Serena Slam. Her jewelry was simple and thought her hair with the white headband kept the whole look very clean. The glittery strap was a great touch and loved the orange belt.


#2 - 2013 French Open (Grand Slam #16)




Who would have thought navy blue and a tangerine orange would look so good? This was such a great "Sweet 16" dress for Serena. And the hair was rocking!


#1 - 2010 Wimbledon (Grand Slam #13)



  

My top dress is Serena's best Wimbledon look ever for me, and she coined this outfit "strawberries and cream." I loved the cute ruffles around the skirt and her hair looked great with the tiny headband keeping her naturally darker hair in place. Just loved this and even didn't hate the little warm-up jacket she wore over it. She even rocked red shorts under the dress. Perfection.


So what's your vote? What is Serena's best and worst Grand Slam winning outfits?


19 September 2014

Thanks Li Na

Li Na - 2012 Cincy
Oh what a sad time for the tennis world on the heels of Li Na's announcement that she is retiring from tennis.

The Chinese woman achieved so many firsts not just in women's tennis, but tennis in general, and she was a groundbreaker in so many ways. I was lucky to witness a few of her milestones in person, including her run at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and her first grand slam final at the 2011 Australian Open. How amazing it has been to watch the surge in her tennis as well as her popularity both in China and globally.

Li Na, Eastbourne 2013
I lived in Beijing, China for two years from 1999-2001 and tennis was not even remotely a sport that got much attention. At that time, badminton, ping pong and women's soccer had all the attention in the Chinese sports world, and I was thrilled anytime Hong Kong's Star Sports had any tennis coverage.

I worked for the China Daily newspaper for part of my time in Beijing, and anytime tennis made the cut for coverage I was delighted, but the news was never about any Chinese players. I can't remember hearing about any tennis tourneys that took place anywhere in China at the time, and couldn't have named a Chinese player back then.

Fast forward seven years to 2008, when Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics and things had changed so much, so quickly. Li Na was one of four Chinese women in the singles draw (the others were Peng Shuai, Zheng Jie and Yan Zi) and was ranked #42 in the world at the time. I was so keen to see how the Chinese ladies would do in their home country and was lucky enough to attend many days of tennis.

Zheng Jie made it to the third round, Peng Shaui won a round and Yan Zi lost in the first round, but would partner with Zheng Jie to take bronze in the doubles.

Li Na arriving to face Venus Williams - 2008 Beijing Olympics
But Li Na....she would make a run to the semifinals and was part of the two of the most memorable matches I saw at the Olympics. She had ousted #3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round and had advanced to the quarterfinal stage to face Venus Williams, who was the 7th seed and had just won her 5th Wimbledon.

I thought Venus had a great shot to advance to the medal rounds but in a great, great match, Li Na would thrill the locals and upset Venus 7-5, 7-5.  This was a tense match, as the Chinese fans just didn't understand tennis etiquette. They didn't know they needed to be so quiet, or not shout out often during points or not use their phones during play. Li Na got annoyed with the crowd during this match and at one point stared down a fan who called a ball out during a rally. Here's my recap of that match and others that day.

In the semifinals, Li Na faced 6th seed Dinara Safina and one of the tensest tennis matches I'd ever seen. I blogged about it here and won't repeat all the details but it was so tense I actually left after the first set to go watch Venus and Serena contest a doubles match.

At the time, I actually felt happy that Li Na went onto lose that match to Safina because I was so irate at the Chinese crowd. I have never seen a player's coach stand up and scream at the chair umpire to do something about the crowd other than at Davis Cup. I mean, Safina was getting booed and laughed at constantly in that first set for fist pumping a point or catching a ball toss. Oof. But tennis wasn't a common sport there - I'm sure most of the Chinese fans in attendance had never watched live tennis before.

A few years later, in early 2010, I was living in Auckland, New Zealand and Li Na was competing in the ASB Classic. I was excited to see her again and at the time she was ranked at No. 15 in the world. Sadly, Li Na lost in the first round quite badly to Kaia Kanepi, but after she lost she did what many people do when they visit New Zealand - she bungy jumped!

Check out the video below:



At the time, I worked for Tourism New Zealand as the PR Manager for Asian markets. Once we got wind that Li Na did the bungy jump we got photos from the company and had our Chinese PR agency send them to Chinese media outlets. That photo ended up being published EVERYWHERE. I couldn't believe how much interest there was in the photo and it really hit me how much of a star she was back in China. How quickly things changed!

Li Na pre-bungy jump in Auckland. Photo: WTA
After she left Auckland, Li Na would again defeat Venus Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals (7-5 in the third set), and put a scare into Serena in their semifinal clash. Serena battled hard and would win in two tiebreakers and go on to win her 5th Aussie Open in the final. (See highlights here). After her run in Melbourne, Li Na broke into the top 10 for the first time.

The Australian Open would be the place of Li Na's best grand slam successes and the next year she'd make the first of her three finals at the Aussie Open. In the 2011 semifinals, she fought off a match point against then No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and ended up coming back from a set and break down to make the final. The crowd LOVED her and we got to witness her memorable on-court interview when she talked about feeling tired due to her husband's snoring. Her jokes, her laughter, it was just a joy to witness and hear the crowd so warmly embrace her. Sadly (for me anyway), she would lose the final to Kim Clijsters after leading by a set but of course she'd win the French Open months later to become the first Chinese player to win a grand slam. (I wrote about the 2011 AO final here.)

Here's her hilarious semifinal presser:



The 2011 Aussie Open final would be the first of four slam finals, and it's fitting that she won her second slam at the "Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific." Tennis in Asia is now booming and especially on the women's side it would just not be possible without Li Na. It's sad that she will be unable to play in the inaugural Wuhan Open which starts next week in her hometown. I will have my tissues ready for the tribute the WTA is planning to hold the next week in Beijing.

The tributes to Li Na, her career and contributions to the sport are flooding in and her letter announcing her retirement is well worth a read. And I loved this post by SI featuring some of the best Li Na quotes from her career.

Others will say it more poignantly that I can, but thank you Li Na for being a trailblazer, a true individual, a joy on the court, a comedian, a fighter and a strong woman.

You will be missed.

Xie xie nin.

13 September 2014

2014 US Open - around the grounds

Just a few photos from around the grounds at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center!

Love walking over the boardwalk from the subway station:







The area around Arthur Ashe Stadium includes a popular fountain area and the big Nike store plus tourney shops:















The practice court area has been redone, and now includes a raised viewing gallery plus screens with practice schedules on them:






Courts 4, 5 and 6 have also been redone:



Ashe Stadium:


The view toward the Unisphere is always special, whether day or night:



Be sure to splurge on the Honey Deuce in its souvenir glass:


If you're lucky enough to be credentialed, here's the main interview room: