[Well, the USA is down, not unexpectedly, and facing another blow-out loss to Italy in the Fed Cup final. You can read the ugly details as recorded by Cindy Shmerler at the home page. Meanwhile, perhaps Bobby's notes will help cheer - or at least distract - US fans from their pain -- Pete]
by Bobby Chintapalli, Contributing Writer
San Diego - I’m the note-taking type, and I always have been. I go especially crazy at tennis tournaments, writing down all sorts of things – stuff about overhead backhand volleys hit carelessly, Melanie Oudin’s latest tennis shoes, shin cramps, Flavia Pennetta’s Italian curse words, a sea lion’s name, the color of Tony Godsick’s sweater, even notes about taking notes. Sometimes I use them, but often I don’t. So I figured I’d write a piece with the specific goal of emptying my notebook (or trying) of odds-and-ends content from the Fed Cup final. Here goes – my random thoughts, in chronological order, with approximate times.
9:15 – It’s not just the forehands and backhands players practice. Liezel Huber yells “mine” for a point, even in practice, even when she’s the only one on her side of the court.
9:30 – You don’t have to dislike an opponent or even your wife’s opponent’s coach. As Huber practiced the Italians started trickling in for their practice session. Her husband, Tony Huber, and Flavia Pennetta’s coach, Gabriel Urpi, greeted each other with a hug.
11:20 – How do retired tennis players stay in such great shape? I noticed Tracy Austin right away when she walked over to the draw ceremony venue at SeaWorld. Wearing an orange dress with black swirly things that stopped a few inches above her knee, she looked thinner than I remembered or, perhaps, realized. (She looked blonder too.)
12:00 – The Italian team was introduced first at the draw ceremony. When they walked on the stage, they had their game faces on. Even Francesca Schiavone, who knows a thing or two about being funny. Ask Sam Stosur, or check out the picture here. Team USA walked in wearing red baseball caps and big smiles. Were the Italians' game faces a defense mechanism? Did they smile more at the draw for last year’s final, which was held in Italy?
12:40 – It can’t be easy being Melanie Oudin right now, and it might help her to have Liezel Huber around. Oudin was polite at the post-draw press conference, but you could see that it was hard for her. She looked down a lot and several times, it seemed to me, held back tears. One of the few times she laughed was during Huber’s long, comedic response to this question: “When you say, ‘We are a family’, how do you come together, support each other?”
Among other things, Huber had this to say: “I loaned Mel some money for a cab ride in Paris and she still hasn't given me the money back. That's kind of how we are as a family… I'm trying to be really nice to Mel, because I want her to do a charity event with me next year… We're just really spread out, but we really are on each other's Facebooks and are really good friends with each other and I expect Christmas presents (smiling).”
3:30 – The Fed Cup tennis court and the surroundings aren’t easy to photograph. As Melanie Oudin and Bethanie Mattek-Sands were practicing playing tennis a few feet in front of us, I chatted with a photographer who was practicing taking pictures of them. He took pictures, deleted them and took them again. “When you’re outdoors and it’s a sunny day, those are the best conditions,” he said. Indoor courts are harder and this court even harder; he explained that it’s because the court itself is bright, with bright pink all around and black seating.
10:45 – In the media room I picked up a Fed Cup booklet on the 2010 World Group semifinals and play-offs. How can you not love the picture of Francesca Schiavone on the cover? (See picture above, the one used for this post.) But why on earth use this picture of Elena Dementieva on the inside? Poor thing looks terrified.
12:45 – A tall man in a button-down USA shirt didn’t make it to his seat before the start of the American national anthem. And he didn’t try. He stopped at the bottom of the ramp, took off his hat, put his hand over his heart, stood still and waited respectfully.
1:30 – Soon after Francesca Schiavone won the first set of her match against Coco Vandeweghe, the soft-spoken volunteer who sat next to me commented on how strong Schiavone is despite being so petite. “Coco’s arms are about the same size as Francesca’s legs, aren’t they?” he said.
2:00 – Mary Joe Fernandez’s adorable young son and daughter, wearing what looked to be a Team USA jacket in her size, sat with the American team on the bench during both matches. They spent much of the time next to or near Melanie Oudin. Oudin and Fernandez’s son had several discussions, some shorter than others. At one point both children walked back into the arena with her, and I tweeted this.
5:35 – After Flavia Pennetta’s win, both Pennetta and Italy’s captain, Corrado Barazzutti, showed up for the post-match press conference. Barazzutti was asked if the team’s experience came into play and gave them additional confidence.
Barazzutti: “The experience is important, for sure. I think it's more important to have a strong player. Do you want to respond?”
Barazzutti: “They are agree.”
Pennetta: “I am agree, we are very good (laughter).”
6:35 – A friend sent me a Twitter message asking only this: “Any signs of Oracene sleeping in the stands?” This one’s for her: No, I didn’t see Oracene Price, admittedly my favorite tennis mom, nodding off behind big sunglasses, but I did laugh when I read your message.