Friday, August 26, 2011

The Winston Salem Open, Part 1

Back in the spring, I heard that Winston Salem would be hosting an ATP tennis tournament.  It barely registered on my enthusiasm radar, as I hadn't played tennis since the previous millenium and the strings on my Yonex had dry rotted along side the free time I had follow the sport in depth.  I was pretty sure that Borg was no longer playing, but other than that I had no idea what to expect.  One of my closest and dearest friends, Robin, sent out the call (via Facebook, as if there is any other way to broadcast to the masses these days) for volunteers to work in the media center.  She had me at "international" and since any chance to step away from the Sound & Fury for a day or so is welcomed, I gave her a hearty "Sure. Why not.".

It poured down rain the morning of volunteer orientation so the whole operation was pushed inside the indoor tennis center at Wake Forest University.   It was a cozy little adventure with just me and 300 of my closest fellow volunteers crammed into one tiny place.  I managed to pick up my "creds" (fancy speak for my lousy passport-esque pic on a Champion lanyard) and my "uniform" (fancy speak for 2 tshirts and a hat).  After the greeting by the tournament director (who stood on a chair and yelled to the crowd, the WS Open version of the Sermon on the Mount), we broke up into our respective volunteer groups.  As it turns out, my group was based in the WS Open equivalent of Arkansas, still technically on the grounds, but far enough away to vaguely still be considered Southern.  We learned what our vital job as mighty media volunteers included;pulling things off the printer and making copies.  Finally!  My work study job in college had paid off!
We aren't supposed to loan our "cred" out.  As if anybody wants to look like this pic.

Volunteering definitely has it perks.  We got four free tickets to the tournament.  Four tickets, provided that we use no more than two per night session and provided that the seats didn't exactly have to be together.  Turns out that the seating numbers and rows are merely suggestions more so than rules, as even the judge on court tells people to "take whatever seat so play may commence".  

On the bright side, the Winston Salem Open drew in some big name players.  I mean big.  They don't come much bigger than John Isner at 8'9" or thereabouts (who, by the way, is perhaps the nicest tennis player, perhaps even nicest guy, on the face of the planet).  They even had other big names as Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt (who I still hold a grudge against for the Kim Clijsters breakup) and Nikolai Davydenko.  I would list others, but frankly I can't spell any of their names well enough to even Wikipedia them.  Not only did they land the big name players, but they allowed the fans to have access to them.  The players strolled along the same paths as the rest of us poor smucks.  The practice courts were open to actually allow fans to watch them, well, practice.  It was great! I know that last sentence sounds a lot like a sentence my 10 year old would reluctantly write for an essay on "What I did this summer", but  it was truly GREAT! (Now I sound like Tony the Tiger).  The players were right there for autographs and photo opportunities and for the most part, they seemed happy to oblige.  This is a truly fan nirvana--getting up close and personal with players (but not too personal, as they did have security on grounds and I'm sure they would have hauled me off to the pokey if I tried to pokey Marcos Baghdatis).  I took all of these pics myself with my point and click camera, so that just shows you how close I was.

Despite the fact that I snarked about the seating, truth be told, there isn't a bad seat in the whole joint.
Davydenko, Blake, Haase

Hewitt and the other guy I was pulling for.  Nobody breaks up with my Kimmy Clijsters!
We also got to see Andy Roddick beat a qualified in a night meet.  With Andy's prima donna attitude on court (complaining about noise, complaning about the official's rulings, complain, complain, complain), I decided not to waste any effort snapping any pics of him.  He won.  yippee. 

I am headed back in the morning for my last day of volunteer work, which happens to be the last day of the tournament.  I figured I couldn't afford tickets to the finals, so at least I will be on the grounds.  Or at least the Arkansas equivalent on the grounds.

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