The Deuce Club, 5.22

Friday, May 22, 2009 /by

Gilles&naughty

By Jackie, TW Social Director

Greetings, TWibe! The weather here is warming up nicely - just in time for Memorial Day weekend. For those of you in the States, do you have any exciting plans? Feels like forever since I had a day off from work - I really should take advantage of it!

As you all are aware, the TWibe has made its presence known on Facebook via our group, TennisWorld > Real World, and it's time for us to conquer a new social networking website - Twitter! (Soon to be TWitter. Ha!) Okay, so it's pretty tough to conquer a website that hosts millions of members, and unlike in Facebook, I can't create a TW group there, but I thought we could still use it to connect with one another. Many of us already have!

(For the record, I just joined Twitter a week ago; I resisted it for an eternity - the non-conformist in me, I guess. Plus, it's not like I needed another Internet distraction. I eventually caved, though, and I'm pleased to say it hasn't taken over my life. I might even say I enjoy it, as it allows me to keep up with my fellow TWibers' goings-on.)

So ... if you're a member and are open to being "found" by fellow TWibers, please let us know your Twitter user/screenname in the comments! This should be fun.

As previewed by Pete earlier this week, today's Deuce Club features a special report on this year's Estoril Open by our very own Naughty T! I provided some bits and pieces of his experience in the DC a couple of weeks back, but today you get to hear it all, and from the man himself. (Note that the report was written a little more than a week ago, during the Madrid Masters tournament.)

Out of the Box ... Magic Tennis from Estoril (from Naughty T)

Since Miguel Seabra had his hands full as the press officer (and writer/editor for Portugal’s Tennis Magazine), someone else had to step into the breach to provide the annual, obligatory Estoril Report for the TWibe. That someone was me, an adopted “Portugeezer” known to most of you by my screenname, Naughty T.

My vagabond dancing/acting/scuba instructing life has taken me from my hometown of Melbourne, Australia, to many foreign parts (including Borneo and Belgium) but I’ve made my home in Portugal for about four years now, and this was the second year that I managed to get a full week at the Estoril Open.

I knew  it was going to be a great week when, after parking my car on Day One, I walked up to the entrance of the club, came around a corner, and bumped right into “Mr. Jackie” himself – Gilles Simon. I got him to autograph my ticket and took a pic with him. [JR: That's them in the headline photo. Obviously!] I expected him just to stand next to me, suffering the attentions of yet another loopy fan (I’d screamed out the greeting,  “Bonjour Monsieur Simon!”), but he was all smiles and surprised me by putting his arm around me. Consequently he looks great in the photo - while I look ... shell-shocked.

Now that the tour has moved on to the “Caja Magica” in Madrid, I can reflect on why I love going to the Estoril Open. It mainly comes down to the “small is beautiful” philosophy. If “intimate” is your thing, this is your event. The Estoril Open has it in spades, if that’s possible. And if you’re more than content to watch the ATP no. 7 or 11 try to bear up under the pressure of being seeded no. 1 or 2, you’ll have a great time here.

Part of the fun for me is that I play on the very same courts as these luminaries of the game. To book my court on a typical afternoon, I walk through the covered walkway alongside the Centralito (the equivalent of the grandstand court) to the sign-up area. When I play here tomorrow, or the next day, I’ll recall the quality of the tennis that was played here just days ago.

The 65-year old Centralito is hard on the butt. When you watch a match there, you sit on one of a series of concrete terraces. But the upside is that you’re really up close and personal with the players on court. At the very worst, you’re no more than 15 metres from the battlefield. If you’re willing to have your view partially blocked by a linesman or the umpire, you can sit close enough to watch individual beads of sweat rolling down your favorite player’s arm. Care to guess what I did?

The tournament officials rewarded the fans by putting Simon, the top seed, on the Centralito on two different days. It was a significant gesture because a grounds pass allows access to the Centralito, while there’s a separate, more expensive ticket for the Centre Court. I find this generous gesture typical of the Portuguese.

Simon played Robert Kendrick in the first round. The match went smoothly for Gilles in the first set, but Kendrick managed to push the second set to a tiebreaker, which Simon won. As I’m typing this, I’m watching Simon playing Ivan Ljubicic in Madrid, and it refreshes my memory of how well Simon returns.

The second time Simon appeared on Centralito had a less happy ending. It was in the quarterfinals, and he was matched with the eventual champ,  Albert Montañes (he won the match, 5-7 6-4 7-6(4)). The winner thrilled the crowed when he saved a match point – something he would do two more times in his final against James Blake.

While watching that absorbing Simon vs. Montañes match, I got into a conversation with an older American gent, Gene. He and his wife are regulars at Indian Wells, but this was his first-ever clay court match, and he was loving it. He was stunned at the level of shot-making, the length of the rallies, and the fact that he was watching it from so close - without having to pay a premium price. His wife had decided to be patriotic and fly the flag for Blake, on Centre Court, but Gene was happy that he opted for the Centralito. I shared his enthusiasm.

Of course, it wasn’t like Mrs. Gene was lost in the crowd, either. The capacity of Centre Court is a shade under 6,000, although last year, the presence of a certain Swiss gentleman (and top seed) made the organizers scramble to add more, temporary seats. I was lucky enough to get “magic wristbands” for the whole week, which meant that I had access to corporate boxes and the well-catered Sponsors Village (free cocktails and amazing lunches!).

The other show courts at Estoril are super intimate; you almost can’t avoid getting into conversation with tennis insiders, like coaches. I had nice conversations with Lisicki’s coach and Jarmilla Groth’s coach, Billy, who works for Tennis Australia. I exchanged jokes with random bunches of Argies, who seem to travel in packs especially when watching Nalbandian, Monaco or Gaudio. The practice courts are an amazing place to see your favorites, hitting up. Watching Ferrer and Ferrero work out from a mere 5 metres away is something I will never forget.

The women’s side of the tournament was a lot weaker than the men’s this year, but who cares, especially when you’re at an event that takes place near great beaches and wonderful restaurants and bars, and all at very low prices.

I could ramble on about a whole heap of things that make the Estoril Open a great little tournament but those higher up the food chain (yes the red-meat eating kind) have me on a short leash. All I can say is: get yourselves over here if you can before it changes too much, as no doubt it will.

The Estoril-Madrid double might be a very nice tennis holiday next year, but I will take the Centralito over the Caja Magica - any day.

Miguel&naughty P.S. (from Miguel Seabra):

My thanks to Naughty T for writing this wrap-up from a passionate tennis fan’s perspective. As you might have noticed in my posts from the Estoril Open for TW in 2006 and 2007, I really am proud of "our" event. I’ve been to quite a few tournaments around the world in the past 20 years and still feel the Portuguese ATP/WTA combined event is truly special.

I just wanted to add a few remarks regarding James Blake. It was his first year at the tournament, and he had a really tough first round opponent in Portugal’s Frederico Gil. The match was so tough and close (especially in the first two sets) that James was almost ecstatic afterwards, praising the high level of tennis, the quality of his opponent and stating that he hadn’t felt that good on a tennis court since the Australian Open. “I feel this match can be the turning point of my season,” he said. And he was right: he was one swing of the racket away from the title on two occasions in the final, after beating Nikolay Davydenko in the semis … on clay, let’s not forget.

James was spanking the ball with his forehand the entire week, and sometimes the hitting was so violent the crowd just couldn’t believe it. He was sliding into the shots as well, like a true clay-courter. But I must confess that I was surprised - yet again - by how poor he can be on defense, especially on his backhand.

Blake is the first to admit that his game is based on risk-taking, on hitting winners even at the expense of making unforced errors. For him, the key to success is finding the right balance between aggression and consistency. It’s interesting that while he’s 29, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in his game.

Of course, everybody felt James would look much better in the tournament honour roll; Albert Montañes, who survived qualifying, is a competent clay-courter, but he still doesn’t have the usual Estoril Open champ’s pedigree. Let’s remember, the winner last year was Roger Federer. It was worth putting all those extra seats at Centre Court!

Gosh, we better get our behinds to Estoril next year, huh. Many thanks to Naughty T and Miguel - pictured together above, if you haven't already figured that out - for taking us on that journey. It was almost like I was there! (Almost. The Gilles-putting-his-arm-around-me part needs to be experienced firsthand for the full effect.)

Before I sign off, I have to mention Roland Garros, as it starts in just two days.

Though you're probably knee-deep in draw and final four discussions in the other threads, feel free to use this space to post any RG thoughts/predictions, as well. Preferably those DC-friendly ones ... like who do you think will sport the best/worst look? If they reprised the Un jour à Roland karaoke bits, who would blow everyone else out of the water?

Enjoy your weekend and the start of RG!

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