AEGON OPEN NOTTINGHAM – Five Things From Day Two

This was my second day covering the action at the Aegon Open Nottingham, and it was jam packed with action, drama, freezing wind, burning sunshine and… tennis!

Tomorrow I’ll be getting up some in-depth articles both here and elsewhere, with information on events of the day, and also on some star players of the WTA tours. Until then, here are five interesting things I picked up from around site at the Aegon Open!

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(Picture Two: This is the main reception (most of the right hand side) and Media Centre (at the far left, up the spiral staircase.) If the picture extended, you’d see the entrance to Centre Court.)

1. Francesca Schiavone’s Outbursts Are Even Funnier Than On The TV:

I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of the whole ‘This Is Why We Love So-And-So’ thing on the WTA. For example: Jelena Jankovic, the Light and the Joy. But seeing Francesca Schiavone live (a.k.a, not formed by pixels in a rectangular transmission screen) for the first time, caused real, genuine laughs to bubble up inside me. The swaggering walk, the incredulous yells, the up-and-down gesturing of the arm… Hilarious, Francesca!

She may have lost first round to Zarina Diyas (just another of many tough first round draws), but she had her unique sparkle on full display. The best part is how unintentional it is…

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  1. Line Calls and Let Cords:

They were a common theme at Nottingham yesterday, and again today. Possessing a great seat in direct line with the baseline on Centre Court – and having the liberality of patrolling the outside courts in whichever direction I pleased – I (and others, also) were shocked at some of the outrageous non-calls during play. Time and again amidst long rallies, a ball would land beyond the baseline, or an ‘ace’ would really be a fault, and the world would keep turning. But not until after Aijla Tomljanovic had yelled at the linesman to ‘Watch the game,” quiet Qiang Wang had demonstrated her frustration, and Sachia Vickery… Well, you’ll have to come back tomorrow for that one.

Trying to gain some insight on the situations of continued net corded shots and uncalled faults, I looked to the surface. Once you start watching play on the turf, it feels like that’s simply the way the wind blows. It’s difficult to remember that only two days ago, Stan Wawrinka was spoiling Novak’s party and stealing French Open glory – on dirt.

These have been the first official days of grass court competition. Switching from sluggish clay to speedy lawns is a culture shock, and it’s going to take a little while longer for the players to consistently hit a safe distance above the tape. As for the line calling: same difference. The players themselves will not yet have adjusted enough to the speed to spot every ball that just misses out on clipping the line. And as for the lines judges, those balls are travelling at quite a pace, and you can’t expect them to pinpoint an extra millimetre every time.

But maybe just a little more often…

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  1. There’s Something Sweet About The Asian Players:

Take ‘sweet’ for however you want: Cute, Cool, Fantastic… Whatever the definition, it applies to the four Asian women I saw competing today. Here they are, and what made each one special:

QIANG WANG – The 23-year-old world number 109 is probably best known for her defeat of Caroline Wozniacki in 2013. Playing her first round on Court One versus Sachia Vickery, the Chinese woman presented an addictive array of beautiful, clean shots, her forehand and her backhand equally deep and sweeping. Her movement was decent and her commitment was evident – but her big problem was that on many long rallies, she was the one to produce a forced or unforced error, plainly due to her lack of topspin. In the future, she may want to try reassessing those groundstrokes – or else add something new to her game. More net approaches could bear fruit. There is potential for developing some killer, slick volleys with her style of play.

What shone most about Qiang Wang was that – for the most part – she was calm, collected, invested in and dedicated to her game. And she surrendered no attention to the prized brat mooching across the net.

Again, come back for that one tomorrow.

ZARINA DIYAS – Kazakhstan’s Wimbledon fourth rounder of last year, and this year’s 2nd seed at Nottingham, didn’t have it easy against Francesca Schiavone – and perhaps the Italian’s famous rants and grunts increased the delicate appearance of Zarina. What I found most lovable about Diyas were her quiet ‘Ka-Man’s after nearly every point she won, occasionally accompanied by a clenched fist. While in other situations this might come across as annoying, it was refreshing to watch a player do this in such a reserved, almost contained way. There was no doubt that the Kazakh was doing it for her own benefit, simply to keep herself going and to strengthen her belief. It got her across the finish line in two tight tiebreaks: 7-6(5) 7-6(6).

Also impressive regarding Zarina were her serve and groundstrokes – the common theme in each situation being her timing and preparation. In both cases, she surrendered a little momentum and speed in favour of producing a cleaner, more direct shot. Serve-wise, she froze in pre-serve stance for about five seconds, before quickly launching up and executing the shot. As for her forehands and backhands, her backswings were as early as possible, allowing her to line up her target, connect the racquet-head cleanly, and guide the ball smoothly in whichever direction she wished.

This tactic will not work against every opponent, as we’ve seen in the past. But it certainly suits grass, and it definitely worked against Francesca.

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KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM – I saw Kimiko only briefly, engaging in doubles with partner Daniela Hantuchova. But those few minutes alone were a delight. The 44-year-old Japanese is a legend of tennis in her own right, and if you had seen her today, it was obvious why. Jumping and striking like a woman half her age, she also displayed a refreshing maturity on court (for example, when she half smiled and shrugged to Daniela after having missed a volley there was no point in getting frustrated over.) The fact that she was there at all highlights Kimiko’s sweet spot: Despite losing in the final round of singles qualifying, the Japanese did not disdain remaining to compete in the doubles. It plainly reveals one thing, and that’s her undying love for the sport.

SHUKO AOYAMA – To be honest, I had never heard of 27-year-old Japanese woman Shuko before today, and I know precious little about her now. What I’m now aware of is that – as she partnered Renata Voracova against Date-Krumm and Hantuchova – the doubles world number 48 displayed a passion, energy, desire and smile to draw gasps and applause from the sparse crowd. The spirit of the game radiated from her, with every leaping smash and scrambling volley. It was a pleasure to witness.

  1. The Outside Courts Are Like A Different World:

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I love the outside courts. Being able to walk up and down between two matches, get close enough to the players for decent photos and analysis, and get a real feel of the match is priceless. One of the biggest insights was being able to hear beyond the grunting that your TV picks up, to the monitored breathing during the rest of the point. Varvara Lepchenko, playing against Monica Niculescu on Court One, was a prime example. Her game went beyond her lefty forehand and backhand timing, to the way she drew in and let out gusts of breath in a way that gave her the energy to survive the point. It was fascinating to watch.

What bemused me about the outer courts was how the players – apart from a few frustrations with novice ball kids – just got their heads down and got on with what they were doing. This was despite the noisy roads, blustery wind, pumping music, endless chatter and constant movement on all sides of them. Incredulously, some of these women were the same ones who would stop mid-serve on a Centre Court if someone was walking on the sidelines.

But here’s the thing: When you’re on the Centre Court, it’s so silent, that any small noise or movement is going to put you off. It’s nothing to do with a player overreacting. When you’re plunged into that utter quiet, it immediately makes you more aware and alive to what’s going on around you. Contrastingly, on the smaller stages, the constant bustle going on around you can almost make it easier to forget the world, and concentrate on what you’re doing. It doesn’t feel like the entire globe is holding its breath as you prepare to serve.

That’s my take on it, anyway.

5. Most Brits Are Tennis-Clueless:

Ah, the British! It was confirmation of my deepest woes. Despite the noise from around the grounds, pretty much every clash lacked atmosphere, as most people (bar my in-the-know family) refrained even from clapping. Doubles action drew the most attention. Because most people didn’t have a clue who half the players were, they preferred just to watch a fast, varied point between twice as many competitors. The activities on the way into site drew the most crowds, and the Centre Court was sparsely populated for the majority of the opening two days.

At Court One, girl sat beside me declared she wanted to watch Radwanska. Was she a fan of her? No. But “at least she isn’t some random nobody.”

(Note: This was said whilst watching former top 20 player Lepchenko, and the ever-dangerous Niculescu, whose sliced forehand was almost hypnotising up close.)

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Worst was perhaps when a young scorekeeper updated the scoreboard to 15-0 after the first point of a tiebreak.

Still, there are always a few who know their stuff, and everyone has to start somewhere! And the constant tennis-related discussion in the Media Centre was heaven in the UK.

If tournaments as well-run as the Aegon Classic continue, one day, the majority of Great Britain will have a tennis knowledge that goes beyond Andy Murray and Wimbledon!

I hope…

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