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!