Thursday, September 27, 2018

A Tennis Weekend in Chicago - part two

Welcome back!  Even though I had gone to bed late, I woke up early on Saturday, excited to know that I would see my hero Roger Federer play!  LIVE!  Woo hoo!  I had made tentative plans to have coffee with a former co-worker, but since I was hungry already, I took a little walk around the hotel's neighborhood and stopped at Starbucks to have a snack.  I went back to the hotel and wrote a little note to my nephew is currently at Navy basic training (I think another post about that development will be forthcoming) and relaxed for a few minutes.  I received a note that my former co-worker was under the weather, so I went back out for another brief walk before catching that express bus to the United Center.

Thankfully, the bus stop nearest my hotel was the first stop, so there was room for me to sit.  The bus got awfully crowded and it wasn't exactly an express bus, since it stopped a few more times between the first stop and the United Center.  But that's ok, I enjoyed my seated ride.  It took about a half hour to get there via the bus, but I got there in plenty of time for the first match, which was German Alexander Zverev vs American John Isner.  I am a big fan of Zverev and a less-big fan of Isner.  I've watched Isner play live a few times - he is a hard player to get behind, in my opinion.  His game is pretty dull and he has such a flat affect on the court.  Plus, when things aren't going his way, he gets down so easily.  I get that he's probably trying to conserve energy throughout a match, but he just lumbers around.  And I have to admit that I don't agree with his philosophy that I must root for him since he's American and I'm American.  Which is a silly reason NOT to root for someone, but there you have it.  He was pretty pumped up for this match, though.  

photo credit: Ben Solomon/Laver Cup website
Isner took the first set - he really was in the zone - and I think Zverev was unnverved by that and by Team World's utterly raucous cheering for each other.  I'm all for cheering on your teammates, but this seemed gratuitous to me.  It was "look at me cheer for you" instead of "hey, you're great."  I don't know.  I was turned off by their whole bro/bullshit intensity.  Other people found it endearing.  To each his/her own, I guess.  Anyway, as it so often happens, Isner stopped zoning as quickly as he had started, and Zverev finally caught up and won the second set tiebreak.  Then they went into that ten-point match tiebreak thing again.  It was also exciting, but Zverev pulled the match out in the end.  He was thrilled and so was his team, whose cheering was more effective and positive for me to watch.  Maybe I have some European ancestry and don't know it...

The second match was my darling Roger vs a non-darling, Aussie Nick Kyrgios.  I think I've mentioned before that I don't enjoy Kyrgios either.  Antics are just not my thing.  Anyway, I think Kyrgios expended far too much energy cheering on Isner in the previous match and he had no energy for his own match.  Plus, Roger was playing vintage tennis.  I have to admit I got teary at one point - it was like time had stopped and Roger was again playing a perfect match.  It was glorious.  He won his match easily and that made me ever so happy.  Oh, I should also mention, if you followed social media about the Laver Cup, apparently there was a dustup with the chair umpire.  Kyrgios and Team World captain John McEnroe apparently behaved badly.  Of course that happened during the bathroom break I had to take.  Grrrr.  I couldn't believe I missed it.  Oh well.  Another funny bit:  my seat neighbor in front of me was streaming a baseball game, so I'm guessing he missed it, too.

After that match was over, the day session was ended, so I went back out to the Fan Zone to find a seat and sit in the sun.  It was definitely more crowded that the day before, but I finally found a seat at a table with a whole family and me.  I just looked at my phone and minded my own business.  It was a pleasant hour or so.  After that, I stood in line to get in for the night session.  I wanted to be able to buy another overpriced bottle of water and use the ladies room before the match started.

The first match of the night session featured my nemesis Novak Djokovic vs Kevin Anderson.  I was not-so-secretly rooting for Anderson, though part of me wanted Djokovic to win to make it easier for my Roger (and his team) to win.  I do enjoy Kevin Anderson - he seems like a really nice, level-headed guy, and he also seems to work very hard to get the absolute most out of his talent.  I appreciate that, as opposed to someone like Kyrgios, who doesn't seem to care that he's talented or put in the work required.  Just my impression.  Moving on.  Djokovic was definitely low-energy and pretty muted and couldn't make any inroads into Anderson's game.  He did finally break Anderson at the end of the second set to take it, but then couldn't get any more momentum in the ten-point match tiebreak.  Anderson just seemed to want the win that.much.more.  It was a good match, everything considered, but I don't think Djokovic was having a great day.

Even though a doubles match was scheduled after that match, I skipped out early.  It was already 10pm and I didn't want to get back to the hotel so late.  I knew where the bus stop was this time, but I discovered that the express bus only runs after the night session ends.  I didn't want to stand around for an hour, waiting for it, and the local bus wasn't showing up either, so I ended up sharing a cab with a gal from Houston who was also going to a hotel in my area.  So it was good to split the cab fare and she was nice to chat with.  I was grateful to get to sleep a little earlier because watching all that tennis is exhausting, lol.  Oh, Team World won that doubles match I missed.

Sunday, I again woke up a little early, but I mainly puttered around my room before heading out to the Twisted Spoke to have brunch with another Chicago friend.  I again got a very friendly chatty cabbie and he didn't want to let me out of the cab until he was sure the Twisted Spoke was open, since it rather looks like a dive bar.  Once he established it was ok for me to get out, I went inside.  It's a pretty cool-looking dive bar, with lots of chrome and a huge liquor cabinet.  When my friend arrived, we sat and chatted and ordered some brunch.  I just got a breakfast sandwich and my friend ordered delicious-looking chilaquiles.  We had a very nice brunch and chat and then I was grateful that she gave me a ride to the United Center.  

Note to self:  next time I go to the Laver Cup, I will stay an extra night so I don't have to leave early during the final day.  The Sunday day session started an hour early and there were four matches on the docket, to see who would win the Laver Cup.  At the start of Sunday, either Team Europe had to win two matches to win the Cup or Team World had to win three of four.  So exciting stuff was in store.  Of course, I had to leave before the second match was even over to make sure I got to the airport on time.  Thank heavens the matches were being streamed on Amazon Prime.  I will talk more about this later.

The first match was a doubles match with Team Europe's Sasha Zverev/Roger Federer vs Team World's John Isner/Jack Sock.  Obviously, I was thrilled to watch Sasha and Roger on the same team.  They played really well together and won the first set rather easily, but their lack of doubles experience came into play at the end of the second set during the tiebreak, which Team World took.  Sock really played well at the net and Sasha started missing.  Sasha and Roger were up in the ten-point match tiebreak, but then Isner/Sock roared back and ended up winning.  Grrrrr.  Now Team World was in the lead and the first team to win two matches would win the Cup.

Surprisingly, Roger came right back out to play Isner in a singles match.  It was a pretty exciting match, with Isner playing out of his head and his bro teammates just cheering their heads off.  Isner won the first set tiebreak and sadly, I had to leave.  I had to get back to the hotel, pick up my suitcase, and then head to the airport.  When I got my stuff and got into a cab, I immediately put on my headphones and watched the rest of the Roger/Isner match on my phone.  Roger clawed his way back to win the second set in the tiebreak and then the ten-point match tiebreak went back and forth as well.  My cab driver couldn't figure out what was wrong with me - I finally told him I was watching the tennis.  He said, oh, the World vs Europe I've been hearing about?  Since he had heard about the tournament, we chatted about it and high-fived when Roger finally came back to win.  I can't believe I wasn't there to see it in person!!!  But I was so happy he won.

from the internet
The final match (which I watched from the gate area - my plane was delayed a bit so that meant I got to watch the whole match on my phone; there was a couple of other people watching it, too.  I didn't feel so alone) was Sasha Zverev vs Kevin Anderson.  I was a little nervous about this match because Anderson was playing so great, but Sasha finally found his magic at the very end and came back to win in that ten-point match tiebreak.  Crazy match!  Roger actually came over to coach him at one point and told him to not listen to that crazy bro-nonsense happening on the Team World side and just to concentrate on himself.  It was good advice, I think.  And after Zverev won, the whole of Team Europe came out to pile onto him.  They were all so excited and jumping up and down, it was fun to watch.  In a restrained, European kind of way.  

I'm ever so glad I went to Chicago to experience Laver Cup and I would love to be able to afford to go next year when it's in Geneva, Switzerland.  The matches were all really exciting to watch and it was great to see so many top players in one place.  Seeing so much of my Roger was an absolute delight.  But I'm sure that trip (in Roger's home country!) will be out of my reach and not even signs from above will help me afford THAT much travel.  But at least I'll always have Chicago...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Tennis Weekend in Chicago (plus a little extra) - part one

Sooooo, I received two emails within the space of about ten seconds a while back and they are what spurred me to splurge on a long weekend in Chicago.  The first email said my credit limit was increased on my mini-credit card.  I saw that and thought, nah, I'm still going to cut the card up.  Then the second email said that discount pre-sale ticket packages for the Laver Cup were going on sale the next day.  WELL.  To me it was a sign.  A sign that I was supposed to use that credit increase to buy Laver Cup tickets.  My budget will not thank me for the sign, but hey, I went for it.  

For those of you not in the know, the Laver Cup is a new tennis team competition that my hero Roger Federer put together.  It has two teams - Team Europe and Team World, and will alternate venues between Europe and...the world, I guess.  Last year was the first year - it took place in Prague and I watched most of it on tv; it looked like so much fun!  The matches were all exciting and the players really seemed to get into it.  Roger played doubles with his great rival, Rafael Nadal, and that match was for the books.  Then when Team Europe won and Nadal jumped into Roger's arms, a bromance meme was born.  They announced early this year that the competition would be in Chicago and I thought 'hmmmm.'  Then when I got the two-email-premonition, the deal was set.

On the Laver Cup website, they also had hotel packages listed, so I went with the Virgin Hotel Chicago.  It was the least expensive of the hotels listed and looked fun.  The cost was certainly cheaper than anything I was finding online.  I also lucked out and had enough frequent flyer miles to be able to get my plane ticket for free, so that helped with the budget a little bit.  I've had these tickets booked since March, so I've been looking forward to a break for a long time.  Last weekend was finally the time for fun.

When doing my internet research, I also saw that Steppenwolf would be presenting the first preview of Bruce Norris' new show, Downstate, while I was there.  Well, hello, you know I enjoy Bruce Norris' plays, so I was in!  I invited an old friend from undergrad to join me and I was as much looking forward to seeing him as I was looking forward to seeing the play.  I also discovered that my mom and her sisters would be in Chicago for a day during their annual sister vacation!  All signs pointed toward my premonition being a good one!

Of course, the best laid plans and all that.  My flight was delayed about an hour, then it took me almost two hours to get into the city by cab.  So my dinner with my mom and aunts was severely cut short.  We had fun in the short time we spent together and laughed a lot, but it wasn't nearly enough time.  I walked with them back to the train entrance and ran back over to my hotel to freshen up - oh, by the way, the Virgin Hotel Chicago is great!  It's kind of funky and the rooms are set up very interestingly.  The closets and bathroom are on one side, then there's a little partition and the bedroom is on the other.  I liked being able to leave the light on in the bathroom, yet close the partition doors and the light didn't stream into the bedroom.  Very nice.  Anyway, I got ready to go to the theater and on my way down the elevator, I got a message from my friend that he couldn't join me after all.  I have to admit I was rather devastated not to see him.  This devastation may require its own blog post in the future.  Moving on.  I got into a cab and went to Steppenwolf by myself, dammit.  I guess I always see shows by myself in New York, so why should Chicago be any different?

I don't want to say much about a first preview, but Downstate seems to be in pretty good shape already.  As is my custom, I did NOT read the program before the show, so I kinda didn't know what I was in for.  OK, I did quickly scan the blurb on the website:  "In downstate Illinois, four men convicted of sex crimes against minors share a group home where they live out their lives in the shadow of the crimes they committed. A man shows up to confront his childhood abuser—but does he want closure or retribution? This fiery, provocative new play by Pulitzer Prize-winning ensemble member Bruce Norris zeroes in on the limits of our compassion as it questions what happens when society deems anyone beyond forgiveness."  But I guess I didn't really register or intuit what I would be seeing.  And that is totally on me.

Downstate is tough - it's really funny and it's really ugly.  It's moving and it's completely off-putting.  It goes places I didn't really want to go and I felt myself grappling with why would this play even be necessary?  Why would Norris want me to have sympathy for these men?  Then I read his piece in the program and it was just as provocative.  It really made me think and perhaps understand better what Bruce was going for - making me think about exactly how far I can go with my natural empathy.  In this play, everyone is a hero and everyone is a villain and I guess that's life.  Other than that, so I don't give anything away, I'll just say the acting is first-rate, though again I had an issue with a character in a wheelchair being played by an actor not in a wheelchair.  I fully understand that Steppenwolf is an ensemble and this actor is part of their ensemble.  I also fully acknowledge that this actor was fantastic.  BUT.  I mean, if Steppenwolf can't feature an actor in a wheelchair, who can?!  I don't know.  It just frustrates me, as you already well know.

There just happened to be another NY friend of mine in the audience and he suggested getting a drink after the show, but again, I didn't want to talk about the play yet or hear anyone else talk about it (like last week's Craig Lucas play).  I just kinda wanted to sit with it.  Of course, when I got into a cab back to the hotel, the cab driver wanted to know about the show.  We got into a long discussion about the play, theater in general, his nephew who has been wrongly sentenced to 60 years in prison for buying drugs, and about the criminal justice system in America.  It was quite a weighty conversation for a not-that-long cab ride, but it did keep my mind off being depressed and/or triggered by the play and by my friend not joining me there, so that was good.  And so ended my first day in Chicago.

Friday morning, I decided to do room service before starting my day.  I love room service.  I admit it.  It was very pleasant.  Then I decided to spend a little time at the relatively new American Writers Museum, which was only a couple of blocks from my hotel.  I figured I could get a sense of the space in about an hour, before it was time to head out to the tennis.  After going, I wish I had left myself a little more time to get fully immersed in the museum, but I guess it's good to save some things for another trip.  The American Writers Museum is on the second floor of an office building and is set up as mainly one long loop around.  There is a children's exhibit area just past the entrance, but most of the space is taken up by one long timeline of American authors.  There was a lot of interactivity, with panels you could move back and forth, and sound bites, and photographs.  I thought it was just a really interesting place and I would love to go back.  Since I rather rushed through, I'll just say that I thought they could've included more women and writers of color and playwrights, but that's ok.  I'll put some photos below.

After the museum, I went downstairs to catch the express bus to the United Center, where the tennis was being played.  Of course, I missed the bus by about 30 seconds, and knowing that the next bus wouldn't be there for 20 minutes (at least according to the Laver Cup website), I decided to take a cab.  The neighborhood of the United Center is a little off the beaten path, and a lot of the streets were closed, so the cab had to let me out a little ways away.  By the time I made it into the stadium, I had missed the first two games.  But that was ok.  The United Center is laid-out pretty well and I had a terrific seat, though it was a little far back (my binoculars really came in handy).  I couldn't really get any good photos on my phone, but it was fine for viewing.  Interestingly, I had different seat neighbors for each of the sessions (there was a day session and a night session on Friday and Saturday, then just a day session on Sunday).  That made things pretty interesting.

The first match was Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov (on Team Europe) vs Francis Tiafoe from the US (on Team World).  This was really a mismatch - Dimitrov is much farther along as a player than Tiafoe, though there were a lot of really great rallies and a lot of excitement.  But the outcome was never in doubt.  It was a good first match, I think, to get everyone into the event.  Second match was Brit Kyle Edmund vs American Jack Sock.  Sock has had a really crappy year on the tour this year, at least in singles.  He's also had a lot of doubles success, so I think his brain is confused at the moment.  He can play brilliantly and horribly, often in the same point.  This match was pretty exciting, though - Edmund won the first set, then Sock got his head together and won the second set.  In the Laver Cup format, if the players split the first two sets, instead of playing a deciding third set, they play a ten-point tiebreak.  This kept the matches very exciting and moving very quickly.  The momentum went back and forth in the match tiebreak, but Edmund pulled out the win with some very aggressive shotmaking.  It was an excellent match and I was happy to see both players live (I had only seen them on tv before).

Neither match was overly long, so I was a bit worried about what I would do between the day session and the night session.  I didn't want to take two more cab rides to and from my hotel, but I discovered the Fan Zone outside the United Center.  It had a lot of food stands, exhibits, and lots of places to sit.  I grabbed some doughnuts from one of the vendors (they looked much better than they tasted) and sat at a picnic table.  Later, a couple of other single women sat down with me and we had a nice conversation.  One woman was from Portland and one was from Dallas.  It was an interesting break and it was nice to sit in the sun for awhile before heading back into the arena for the night session.

Up first was Belgian David Goffin vs Argentine Diego Schwartzman.  This match was really thrilling, with each gent taking momentum and executing some really exciting shot-making.  There were a lot of South Americans in the crowd, I think, so there was a lot of enthusiastic cheering for Schwartzman, who played very well to it.  This match also went to the ten-point match tiebreak and both players held match points before Goffin pulled off the win.  He leaped to the air and you could really see how much Laver Cup means to all of the players.  Their excitement was very contagious.

The last match of the first day was a doubles match and it was a marquee match up:  for Team Europe was my hero Roger Federer and my nemesis Novak Djokovic, versus Team World's Kevin Anderson and Jack Sock.  Someday I will explain my complete and utter antipathy towards Djokovic.  It was hard to root for him at all, but since he was playing with my Roger, I had to.  This was a very lively doubles match, with some excellent play from all four players.  I think Kevin Anderson, though, was the MVP.  He was just on fire and played really really well.  The teams split the first two sets in this match too, but the match tiebreak was a tad anticlimactic, and Team World got their first point of the day.  I was disappointed that Roger didn't win, but oh well.  I was just happy to have seen him play.

After the match, I went outside with the thousands of people pouring out of the stadium, but I couldn't find the bus stop in the dark.  I just got all turned around and ended up taking another cab.  I got another chatty cabbie - this one wanted my opinion on whether Uber is a fad or if it's here to stay and did I think he should get a new hybrid car?  I have no idea why I looked like someone with answers to those questions, but we had a nice enough chat on the short ride back to the hotel.  I briefly thought about heading up to the rooftop bar in the hotel, but since it was pretty late, I decided not to.  So ended day two.

You know what, I think I'll save days three and four for another post, this one is long enough.  I'll be back!