After packing all our snacks and water, Mom and I got to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center a little early on Tuesday, so we took the time to sit and eat our bagels and plan out our day. First we wanted to look at some of the changes they've made on the grounds, then we watched a little bit of practicing (shirtless Gilles Simon is always nice). Then we decided to start on Court 7 to see the American Alex Kuznetsov take on Taro Daniel from Japan. There weren't any seats left in the stands that were shady, so we only made it through the first set. I knew there was a match on Court 17 that I wanted to watch that started at 1pm, so to kill time, we watched a women's match on Court 10 for a bit. Oh my. This was not a good match. Both ladies had trouble holding their serve and neither had much of a game plan. So we won't mention any names here. On to Court 17.
This is a new court, built within the last few years and it's very nice. They could've put some kind of awning or something over it for shade, but oh well. Mom and I wanted to watch the first match because it featured Somdev Devvarman from India - she and I had seen him practice with Andy Roddick a few years ago and were impressed with him. He was playing an American teenager, Ernesto Escobedo.
Somdev has a nice game, no real superstrengths, but no real weaknesses either. But today was not his day. He just couldn't make anything happen and Escobedo had too much oomph and stick on his shots. We were sorry Devvarman didn't win, but it was nice to watch a young American we weren't previously familiar with, and they did play a pretty competitive match. Plus, Court 17 is great. We would return there many times over the week.
After that match, we had a little snack at the food court, then went to watch some of the pros practicing in the Grandstand. We watched Alize Cornet from France practice with (I think) Julia Goerges from Germany. It wasn't a very exciting practice, and Cornet was doing some weird exercises with cones, but it was nice to be in the shade for a bit. There was a match I wanted to catch on Court 8, though, so we headed in that direction.
At the Australian Open this year, two young Aussies took the event by storm. One of them was playing in the qualifying - Thanasi Kokkinakis. His opponent was Nikola Mektic from Croatia. I have never heard of Mektic before, but Mom and I liked him. He was quite good looking and very charming. Unforunately, he was also very inconsistent. We were rooting for him to win the match, not only because he was charming (we're shallow, but not that shallow!), but also because Kokkinakis was a bit of a pill. He was using foul language through most of the match, and also hit the ball out of the stands when he got especially annoyed. Mom and I didn't enjoy him. But he came through with a win in the third set. I'll have more to say about Kokkinakis in part two of my tennis series...
After that match, Mom and I went back to Court 17 to watch another young American, Chase Buchanan, take on the top seed in qualifying, Malek Jaziri from Tunisia. This was another very good match, very competitive, and though we were rooting for Buchanan, Jaziri had a little too much experience and firepower and he overcame the American in three sets. All in all, Mom and I were at the tennis center for over eight hours - more than enough time to see some good tennis, even though our preferred competitors didn't win.
Wednesday, we had to go to Kinko's to print off Mom's boarding pass for her Thursday morning flight (I don't have a printer at home at the moment), so we got to the tennis center a little later than usual. We went right to the Grandstand to see who was practicing and were happy to see Andy Murray, former Wimbledon and US Open champ. He was practicing (so I'm told) with Julien Benneteau from France. It was a very lively practice - they played a set of competitive tennis, with both hitting full out. It was very fun to watch. After Murray and Benneteau, then Canadian Milos Raonic came to practice with his coach, former ATP player Ivan Lubijic. This was also another interesting practice, watching Milos practice specific parts of his game with Lubijic as his hitting partner. It looked to me as if Lubijic could go right back onto the tour, he was hitting that crisply. After Raonic was finished, this year's Australian Open champ, Stan Wawrinka from Switzerland came in to practice with Czech Tomas Berdych. Again, it was very fun to watch two pros go at it from so close. They were hitting hard and fast, trying drop shots and passing shots, and didn't seem to be 'marking' at all. Stan's one-handed backhand is quite gorgeous on tv and even more gorgeous in person. We wandered into Armstrong Stadium for a moment to watch Richard Gasquet practice (he's one of Mom's favorites) but the sun was just too strong to stay in there for long. I wanted to watch some qualifying matches, so we went to Court 17, where there would be three matches in a row that interested me.
The first was between two young Americans, Mitchell Frank and Stefan Kozlov. I've been hearing about Kozlov recently - he's only sixteen but he's the #2 ranked junior in the world. This was another competitive match that went three sets, but it was clear the Kozlov is a little bit better than young Frank. He's just a little quicker, with a better forehand, and more juice on his shots. He pulled the match out in three sets. Kozlov seemed to have a good attitude out there, so I'll be keeping my eye on him.
The next match was between American Melanie Oudin, who made a splash at the Open in 2009 where she made the quarterfinals as a teenager. Unfortunately, she hasn't done much since. She's been frequently injured and she's just so slight on the court, with no real weapons, that every match seems to be a battle for her. Today, her opponent was Sesil Karatantcheva from Kazhakstan. Sesil also has a bit of a history - she's actually Bulgarian, but changed citizenships to play for Kazhakstan. She also was banned for two years from the tour after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. She denied the charge, but didn't appeal and served her ban. She hasn't really been able to get to her previous levels of tennis since.
Anyway, tennis backstory. Did you enjoy it? Moving on. This match wasn't scintillating, but we were happy that Oudin came through in straight sets. She was the steadier of the two, with Sesil making way too many unforced errors. At least the match didn't last forever, because we were really interested in the next match featuring another American teenager, Francis Tiafoe, against Tatsuma Ito from Japan. I've also been hearing about Tiafoe lately, about how he's a great prospect and should be a shining star for American tennis in the future. He's sixteen and still very gangly on court. But he has a nice game and acquitted himself well, though he did lose in three tight sets. He could've won, but got a little tight towards the end. Also, he's more prone to errors than the very steady Ito. The crowd was excited and it was fun to be there, definitely. Tiafoe is another name to keep my eye on.
That's it - first two days of Tennis Week on the books. I'll put some photos below and chat about my two solo days at the qualifying tournament in another post...