Wednesday 29 August 2012

The Day I Met Novak Djokovic

Warning: This post will lack all objectivity whatsoever and might bore you if you're not a Novak fan. I am absolutely not sorry. 
(Also, this post is better read outside your RSS reader, which might not display the tweets correctly)

It all started with one tweet:

I haven't seen this tweet, as I wasn't even following Uniqlo's twitter, but it was kindly brought to my attention by the wonderful Cat (aka @catlovestennis). I had 2 reactions to offer.

And so, at 10am, August 22nd, I found myself standing in the long line around the Uniqlo store on 5th avenue. After my Sugarpova experience, I didn't want to come there too early, and my plan was to arrive there around 9:15-9:30. However, at 8:40 in the morning, I saw this:

I panicked for about 5 seconds, and then my brother and I rushed out towards the subway station. What was usually a 15-minute walk was probably done in half of that time. When we got out, we practically ran towards the store. Luckily for us, the lovely Katrina (aka @returnwinner) got there much earlier than us and had a great spot in the queue. We joined her, and had a great time waiting for the opening together, while wondering how come the Rolex and Lindt (read: Federer's sponsors) stores were right across the street from us, Swiss flag included.

While waiting, we had to sign forms with our consent to sell our soul to the devil let Uniqlo use all pictures and videos from the event as they wish. We also received lottery slips, with the chance to win tickets to see Novak in the US Open if we'd won.

At about 10:02am (I was looking at my watch a lot. It has since stopped working), the doors of the Uniqlo store were opened, and the line started moving forward. At some point, mass excitement ensued outside, as Novak could be seen coming down the escalator inside the store. The impatience among those of us still outside was quickly rising.

Ten minutes later or so, I was already by that escalator myself, receiving last instructions: no autographs, no cameras/phones of your own, as there's not enough time. Each fan gets a photo with Novak, taken by Uniqlo's photographer, with photos due to be published on their Facebook page later that day. In my hand, I was clutching a short letter I've wrote the night before, with various greetings and good luck wishes to Novak from me and his fans. And so, the following scene unfolded.

Novak: Hello!
Me: Can I give you this? *hands letter over* [Why didn't I say anything smarter?!]
Novak: Yes, of course, thank you!
<Novak half-hugs me, and I try not to faint as the photographer clicks away, standing way too close to our faces>
Novak: I love your shirt!
Me: ------------------------------- [I don't remember what I did. I'm not even sure if I've said thank you. Novak, if you ever read this: THANK YOU]

The photographer wasn't too good. But Novak's holding my letter. I guess it really happened?
It was all over in about 20 seconds. We were sent one floor upstairs, to take a look at Uniqlo's new collection for Novak, but we were more interested in watching him interact with the other fans and trying to get pictures. He was utterly adorable with the little kids, when a girl asked for a hug he obliged, and he said something to every single fan who took a photo with him (there were about 170 of those). Jelena Ristic, Novak's girlfriend, was there too. Check out my Facebook page for some photos of all that.

We didn't win anything in the raffle, but by that point I didn't care about that too much. We said goodbye to Katrina (who's still in NYC, being the superfan that she is), and went on our way, enjoying our last day in New York.

Sunday 26 August 2012

US Open 2012 - Qualifying Day 1

This year, I've only had one day to watch matches at the US Open, which was the first day of qualifying. Luckily for us (my brother and me), the schedule for that day was simply perfect for us, and we got to see both Israeli players - Amir Weintraub and Julia Glushko - win their first round match.

The day started with watching practices - we caught both Amir and Julia at the end of their pre-match warm up, wished both of them good luck, and I took photos of my brother with both of them. At the official practice courts, we saw a bit of Serena Williams and a lot of Andy Murray, who we were waiting for to come out.

Murray in practice
 The wait was long, since Andy wasn't rushing anywhere - the practice courts were half empty at that time. Serena refused to come to the mosh pit and interact with fans at the end of her practice, but Andy signed autographs for everyone who was there (not a lot of people compared to what usually happens during the tournament itself). Unfortunately, I didn't realize we could get on Louis Armstrong and Grandstand to watch the top players practicing, so I've no idea who we've missed there... in fact, I think I'd rather not know.

Murray signing autographs
Amir's match against Mathieu Rodrigues from France was first on court 14, and we came there just as he held for a 3-1* lead. He was visibly stronger than the French player, who had a very weak serve (especially his second one), and didn't attack much. What he did have was excellent dropshots and slices, and he fooled Amir quite a lot with those. As the first set progressed (Amir broke again, then got broken back), I felt like Rodrigues was deliberately stalling and taking his time. For instance, when he was down *3-5 0-30, he suddenly decided he needs to wear his hat. I'm pretty sure it didn't stay on for long... Amir got a break point, which got him 3 set points, but Rodrigues saved all of them, and then saved 3 more of those before Amir finally managed to convert his 7th set point for a 6-3 lead.

Amir preparing to receive serve
The second set went quicker, as Rodrigues grew visibly tired. Amir opened with a break for 2-0, but got broken back in the next game. He got to a 5-1 lead easily enough and was serving for the match, but Rodrigues chose that moment to raise the level, and broke as Weintraub played somewhat tentatively. However, Amir broke again in the next game, winning the match 6-3 6-2 on his 3rd match point. You can see the first match point, which was saved by a clean winner, in the following video.

This was Amir's first ever win in the qualifying of any Grand Slam tournament.

By the time we got to Julia's match, she was already leading 5-2 in the first set against Marta Domachowska from Poland. She played well to win the set 6-2, but got broken early in the second set, and her level dropped. The taping on her knee started to bother her, and when down 2-5 she received a medical timeout to have her knee re-taped.

Julia Glushko
We had to leave the court (read: we were hungry and went to buy food), and when we came back, it was the middle of the third set and Julia just broke back for 3-3. She won the next three games and the whole match, 6-2 2-6 6-3, while showing some great mental strength at tougher moments, such as facing break points. The next video shows her first and only match point:

Julia later qualified to the main draw of the US Open, and will play her first ever main draw match at a tour-level event tomorrow against Yanina Wickmayer.

We've seen bits and pieces of a few other qualifying matches, and were particularly impressed by Yuki Bhambri. The young Indian player has a good technique and seemed like a cool-headed guy from the few games that we saw.

As always, you can find all our photos from that day on my Facebook page.

Saturday 25 August 2012

A Spoonful Of Sugarpova

If you're planning to go to the US Open one day, my first advice to you is: make sure to arrive at New York at least a week before the tournaments starts. During that week, Manhattan fills up with promotion events for anything from food to clothes to sunglasses, as the various tennis players make appearance at their sponsors' various stores.

This week, I've attended two such events, one of which was the launch of Maria Sharapova's new candy collection, fittingly called "Sugarpova". (The other was Novak Djokovic's event at the Uniqlo store).

My younger brother and I arrived an hour early at the Henri Bendel store, where the event was scheduled. While waiting, we had the chance to take a look at the different tastes available for sale, including tennis-ball-like chewing gum.

The whole collection is gluten-free, so the many players who are now following this diet can eat as much candy as they like ;)

Upon arriving to the store, Masha gave interviews outside, while inside free candy was distributed among the waiting fans, along with Sugarpova stickers and fake tattoos in the shape of the Sugarpova lips logo. Shortly afterwards, she came inside for some more interviews with what felt like every member of the press who was there. We waited (somewhat) patiently until the interviews were over, hoping she'd go through the crowd for autographs and pictures. She did, but it was too crowded to get close enough to her, so instead we tried to sneak upstairs, where we knew she'd be giving another interview (this time to CNN).

Unfortunately, that cunning plan failed, as her interview was in a closed off section of the store, and not where we were standing. The only thing left to do was to wait for her downstairs, hoping she'd oblige for some more fan interaction. And here, I've got another advice for you - if you're hoping to interact with players, bring a kid with you. Just as we slipped to the front of the group of fans still left in the store, the organizers decided to arrange a short autograph-only session, but only for the kids. My brother went first in line, and I followed him hesitantly, but the guard waved me through, and I certainly didn't object to being considered young enough ;)

And so, we started waiting for the CNN interview to be over, while being repeatedly told that we can only get Maria's autograph, and nothing else. So, here's advice #3 - when you get such instructions, ignore them, especially if you're at the beginning of the line. As soon as Masha came to us, I asked her (in Russian) if we can have a photo, she agreed with a smile, and - voila, a pic with my brother and a pic with me. And so, we left the store happy and delighted.

Oh, and the candy? Delicious. We bought a bag of "Spooky Sour", which is a gummy candy in the shape of tasty (and mostly sweet) spiders. It was empty after about 24 hours, and I've only ate one candy of the lot...

For a few more pictures (like my picture with Maria), visit my facebook page, where you can also find photos from the first day of qualifying and from Novak's Uniqlo event. Detailed posts about those will come later this week!

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Practice pictures from Montreal

I've had the opportunity to visit the Coupe Rogers this week - the Montreal edition of the Canadian hard court tournaments, this year featuring the WTA. I was only there for a couple of hours, and since it was the day before the main draw matches started, I mainly spent them on the practice courts. All the pictures can be found on my Facebook page, and meanwhile here are a few samples:

Ana Ivanovic practicing her serve
Petra Kvitova hitting a backhand
Marion Bartoli, practicing in a unique way
The Bartoli practice, naturally, drew a large crowd. Her father and her measure the exact distances from the attachment point of the ropes to the baseline, and they film the practice, as she needs to return 2 baskets of tennis balls from the same point, while her legs and racquet are held by the rubber bands. After she finished the first basket, the crowd started applauding...