Final thoughts on the Family Circle Cup

Me, standing on BJK Stadium after the finals
I've been back for 36 hours and have finally unpacked from my fantastic eight days in Charleston for the Family Circle Cup.

Attending a new tournament in an unfamiliar city is always a thrill for me, as I love exploring new places. I chose the Family Circle Cup as my springtime tournament months ago and at the time the only players who'd been announced were Venus and Stosur. As time passed the field got better and better, and combined with southern hospitality and warm weather my time in Charleston was amazing.

Here are my highlights from the 2013 Family Circle Cup.

Venus vs Serena XXIV
Despite it being a bit of a dud to most fans, I was ecstatic to be able to see Serena vs Venus, part XXIV. I was just beyond excited to be able to see them walk onto court together (well not side by side, but one after another), and hear their amazing list of tennis accomplishments read out  one after another. They only had a few great rallies, but it was surreal to watch what could be their final match against each other on the WTA Tour. Chills.
Game, set, match Serena Williams

Venus, Serena, Venus, Serena
Friday's schedule was truly Williams Day at the FCC. Rains washed out most of the play on Thursday, so that meant the 3rd round and quarterfinals were going to be squeezed in the next day, and which players led the charge on Billie Jean King Stadium? Venus and Serena. They played consecutive matches, one after another so there were four straight matches featuring the Williams Sisters. Anyone who knows much about my tennis preferences will know that THIS WAS AMAZING!!
Serena during the WTA All-Access Hour

WTA All-Access Hour 
I was crazy nervous to go to the All-Access Hour and be seated at a table with the top eight seeds but what an amazing experience it was. I did actually ask a few questions to Serena, Venus and Wozniacki and enjoyed how relaxed they mostly were. I found Venus very lovely (as expected) and Serena was in good spirits; Stosur talks so fast and she's very honest, but I found Caro's answers very stock standard. I thought Lucie Safarova was very sweet and the only thing that I recall from Sloane's interview was that she loves Cracker Barrel and really wants to be out the US right now.  

Jelena Jankovic in press
We laughed so hard. What an entertainer! From her smiles and laughter to her walking into the press conference asking if anyone wanted to fight her, she was brilliant in press all week long. And how lucky we were that she kept winning (please keep winning JJ - tennis needs you). JJ certainly can ramble on but she is generous with her answers, is not afraid to make fun of herself or her team and she just exudes personality. After a rough few years, I'm going to hope that JJ is really back - she says she cares about the game so I believe that will translate into better results. She certainly looked great on the court, and is pure entertainment both off and on!

The young guns
Monica Puig, after her loss to Venus
I was able to watch and be in press with many of the WTA's young up and comers, including Mallory Burdette, Monica Puig, Caroline Garcia and Sloane Stephens. I was most impressed with Garcia's game and Burdette's down-to-earthness. Sloane was very guarded in both the WTA All-Access and in her post-match presser and her loss to Mattek-Sands was not even a surprise. I was much more impressed with the honesty and composure of Burdette and Puig. I look forward to following them more closely, as well as Madison Keys, whose game is amazing.

Venus vs Serena, part XXIV

My first live Serena vs Venus match - not exactly a tight contest but still enjoyable for this big Williams fan.

Here are some pics of the match:

Quite some time since we've seen this scoreboard

Venus takes the court

My great media seat

Sisters take the court

Venus with Serena walking behind her

Coin toss

Warm up

First point - Serena serving

Serena backhand

That serve

Serena takes the first set

Changeover after the first set

Panoramic view of the match

Huge crowd today - biggest session in history

Match point


Serena wins

Venus exits the stadium

Serena in press

Venus in press

Practice time at the Family Circle Cup

I love watching player practices and when I attend tournaments I always get there early before matches start in order to see the players having their warmup hits or practicing on off days. It's fun to see them in action this way with their teams and of course you can get so much closer to the players on the practice courts.

Here are some pics from practice sessions this week at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston...

Sloane Stephens

Carla Suarez Navarro

Laura Robson

Caroline Wozniacki

Venus Williams

Serena Williams

Venus Williams

Serena Williams this morning

Backstage at the Family Circle Cup

I'm a spoiled tennis fan and writer. I've been to all the slams at least once, the Olympics, Fed Cup, Davis Cup and several other WTA/ATP tournaments. Each of them offers such a different fan experience with ranges of player access, food, games, practice sessions and other amenities.

The more you attend tournaments, the more you notice the little things. This is my first visit to Charleston and the Family Circle Cup. I grew up watching it and remember the year Jennifer Capriati made the final as a 14-year old (she lost to Martina Navratilova) - that was the first year the tournament hit my radar, and it great to see it continue to prosper when many others in the US disappear.

Here's my two cents about the Family Circle Cup:

It's evident that this tournament is well supported and the fans love it. I've watched many practices and matches and the support form the crowd is wonderful - they ooh and ahh and are genuinely excited to see these ladies. I've sat through matches in which players and/or their play are criticized and here it just seems the opposite. The fans love their former champions - from Venus and Serena to Stosur and Jankovic, the crowds are vocal in their affection for them during matches and around the grounds - they offer a lot of encouragement to players like Jankovic during her matches - it's rather sweet.

We are only on day 4 so the stadium has not yet been full but attendance has been steady in the past decade. Last Saturday, more than 6,000 fans came through the gates for the first day of qualifying! The field this year is very strong so it's going to be interesting to see how the numbers look at the end of the tournament and whether they top previous years.

The crowds seem very respectful of the players and just really enjoy watching tennis. I've been told that Charleston is a tennis town and it certainly feels that way.

Practice courts
Practice sessions can be the rare time fans can get up close with the players since stadium courts don't allow such access. Smaller tournaments are great for watching practices and the players are likely more to be a bit more relaxed here than at grand slams and bigger tournaments so getting autographs and photos is much easier.

The Family Circle Cup venue has a lot of practice courts and most days the tournament has a board with some of the schedule so fans can plan their day. This is a nice offering not always found outside the bigger tourneys - but I always suggest to do a few laps throughout the day to see who is practicing. One of the practice courts here has a sign where player names are actually written which is a nice touch. It hasn't always been accurate, but it helps casual fans identify who is practicing instead of them playing a guessing game.

The Family Circle Cup is a decent size venue but it only takes a few minutes to walk from the stadium court to the practice sessions and other main stadium. There are plenty of walkways to get you to the food stalls, sponsor tents and practice courts so there isn't too much congestion which is nice. Located on Daniel Island, the Family Circle Cup venue has trees all around which is great on sunny days. It can be hard at tourneys without a lot of shade but here there are plenty of open spaces and the large trees are a lovely backdrop to the outer courts.

One cool feature I've seen if that the side courts have signs on them naming former champions and the years they won. I haven't seen anything like this before and I think it's a nice touch. It's always great to be able to be reminded of the great champions who have won a tournament, particularly one that has such a long history such as the Family Circle Cup. There are also photos with champions along the walkways outside the stadium - nice acknowledgement of all the great players who have won here - as well as a plaque near Althea Gibson Court listing all the FCC champions.

Sponsor tents
I think there are more sponsor tents here than any other tournament I've been to - shows the support and value local businesses and the crowd provide to keep the tournament going. 
There are also non-clay courts which are used for a number of tennis related fun for fans. What better place to try out a new racket than the Dunlop Demo Court, or for fans to test their skills at the Serve Return Survivor Game. Free massages are also on offer as well as the usual giveaways from main sponsors. Apple Ale, one of the sponsors has a few kids games to kep

Food stalls
In addition to a food court with 4-5 stands, there are a great number of vendors and food options which is great to keep lines at bay. There are your typical pizza/pretzel stands but there's also a cafe and a restaurant plus plenty of tables to sit and eat. Althea Gibson Court also has its own bar area near it and a food stall selling nice sandwiches, soups and breakfast foods. It's great to be able to get food and drinks right by each main stadium instead of having to run back and forth around the grounds and miss out on play. There seem to be a decent variety in food options here, and there are also places to eat just across the street in case fans can't find what they're looking form.

Media room

Each media room is also different and is the press conference room. Here, the interview area is literally on the other side of a curtain from the media room. This is good in that it's hard to miss announcements of players arriving and you don't have to race up and down stairs to get to the interviews in time. In addition to meals (lunch daily and dinner if there is a night session), we have a steady stream of coffee and soft drinks available all day plus some candy to enjoy (even Venus Williams couldn't resist going for some chocolate after her press conference ended on Wednesday night. All in all, we are well looked after.

Wednesday at the Family Circle Cup

My idea of heaven is spending all day at a tennis tournament, with access to my favourite players. So basically I'm in heaven this week in Charleston at the Family Circle Cup.

The days are whizzing by and we're already halfway through the tournament. It was a dream to be here as media to a WTA tourney - I've had credentials of some kind for the US Open, Cincy and the Auckland tourneys but there's something special about being at a smaller tourney with relatively few media. The tone seems so much more relaxed and the pressers are feeling like a conversation between friends instead of a journalist/subject interview.

Today was a packed day and it's nearly midnight so here are some thoughts/highlights:

1) Jankovic/Garcia match. The quality of this match, the crowd and the drama. What a great match! JJ fought off a few match points in the second set, and she was vocal and dramatic JJ (what else?). Garcia is a talented teen and she more than held her own against Jankovic. The crowd loved this match - JJ has a lot of fans here in Charleston. When Jankovic closed out the win she was pumped and Garcia sobbed into her coach's arms after she exited the stadium. Great, great match.

2) Jelena in press. Ohhhh myyyy gawdddd Jankovic is by far the best in press this week. Again, and again she entertains on and off the court. Today I think she could have talked for an hour though she'd just played and won another long three-set mach. One question led her to warble on and on and she was so funny. But as much as she criticizes herself for not playing the way she knows she can, and berates herself for being too frustrated on court she said she wouldn't do either if she didn't care. I need JJ to keep winning as these pressers are a big highlight of the week.

3) Venus wins. Every time Venus steps on the court I try to enjoy her while I can. She had a tough first match against teen Monica Puig and it was a battle that thankfully Vee won in three sets. She is so lovely in press and it's just a privilege to be able to see her enjoy the crowd and this lovely tournament.

4) I had a quick chat with Andrea Petkovic today as she was leaving her practice session. She is just so nice and down to earth - I didn't even feel nervous talking to her. Lovely, lovely woman.

I wrote about Germans, including Petko, today. Read if you're interested.

The forecast for tomorrow is CRAP. 100% chance of rain so I'm just hoping that the forecast is wrong. There are some great matches to look forward to and I always hate to see players have to play more than one singles match a day. But we will see what's going to happen.

Here are a few more photos from Wednesday.

Serena practicing.

Stosur beating Erakovic

Caro in press

Night Venus

Madison Keys

Robson and Bouchard