If you’ve ever been sent to a far-flung court, it was probably to play a match in the consolation bracket of a USTA tournament at your local park. For me, however, that court assignment—specifically, to Court 17—was the highlight of my career.
I had been working in various segments of the tennis media for nearly a decade, writing and producing news videos in relative obscurity. Two years ago, that all changed when I took to the U.S. Open’s fourth-largest court as an emcee. In front of 2,500 fans and a worldwide viewing audience, I was tasked to warm up the crowd and conduct live post-match interviews with players—all without any prior experience. I would be learning this job on the fly at one of tennis’ showcase events.
No pressure, I told myself.
It was a bit uncomfortable at first. Nestled in the southeast corner of the grounds, Court 17 has no designated indoor area to take refuge on hot summer days. There is no court producer to direct start times or coordinate TV cameras. In fact, the emcee of Court 17 also serves as its DJ. With my lengthy job description, I left my courtside seat solely for bathroom breaks.
But I didn’t mind being glued to my post—even though, like the players I talked to after a grueling match, I smelled like a mixture of sweat and sunscreen. I found that it was easy to settle into a groove, and I loved the unique access. Some of the best advice came from longtime tennis emcee Andrew Krasny, who told me to make fans feel at home, like they had just entered the best tennis venue in the world.
Hanging out on the court and chatting with fans in between matches—even if some of them thought I was an usher (“Do you know where these seats are?) or a psychic (“Do you know when the courts will be dry?”)—made it easier to take ownership of my environment. It also allowed me to watch matches up close and carefully, which is the key in crafting a sharp post-match interview.
There is nothing quite like the rush of being the first person to talk to an athlete after a big win. The crowd is buzzing, the mood is light and the player is generally all smiles—it’s a much different atmosphere than inside a formal pressroom.
Even then, getting those initial remarks about what just happened is a responsibility to be taken seriously. Everyone who has just seen the match likely has a question or two they’d like to ask; I am, in essence, entrusted to do so on their behalf. In addition, one funny or endearing answer from the player can create a fan for a lifetime, and I consider it my job to facilitate that.
I learned quickly that if you want a player to give you a great answer, you have to take some risks with your questions. Sometimes, no matter how creative you try to get, the interview will end up being a cliché-athon. But other times, you’ll receive a great answer. After a particularly grueling win on Court 17, I asked a sweaty Jo-Wilfried Tsonga what his post-match recovery would look like. “Kisses from my girlfriend,” the Frenchman said, without missing a beat.
One of my favorite quotes came from Juan Martin del Potro, at the 2016 Delray Beach Open. I was the first person to speak to the fan favorite after his nearly two-year injury layoff. My final question was a standard one: “Next up you face Australian J.P. Smith. What are your thoughts on that matchup?”
“I do not know him,” del Potro replied. “I’ve been home watching The Simpsons for the last two years.”
From the players’ perspective, having their bios read during the warm-up and answering post-match questions are all part of the pro-tour drill. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention, either.
I’ve been corrected by players on things as minor as the pronunciation of a hometown. (Rajeev Ram is from CAR-mel, Indiana, not car-MEL.) Then there’s the pronunciation of players’ names. I’ll never forget announcing Henri Kontinen’s name as the Finn walked onto Court 17. I was sure his name was pronounced the French way, on-REE. I was wrong. He walked past me, looked me right in the eye, and said, “It’s HEN-ree.” Lesson learned.
One year at the Hall of Fame Open in Newport, I went to verify the pronunciation of Canadian Frank Dancevic. After asking tournament staff, ATP staff and another player, I had three different answers. I finally went ahead and asked the man himself. (It’s DANCH-e-vich.) No one I asked had it right.
Reading players’ accomplishments and correctly pronouncing their names are technical aspects of the emcee job. The rest is a matter of feel: gauging a player’s mood, discerning the best way to showcase their personality, and boosting crowd energy. As a former college tennis player and the daughter of a teaching pro, I feel fortunate that I get to enhance the fan experience in a sport that has influenced my life since I could walk. I’ve seen a falling on-court clock nearly crush Gael Monfils, Max Mirnyi hit a between-the-legs volley and Grigor Dimitrov kiss his legs after a win. Those moments made for some fun interviews.
I’ll be returning to the U.S. Open as an emcee with plenty of experience at my disposal. Trophy ceremonies? No problem. DJ skills? I’ve got them. (Sort of.) Mid-match fan promotions? I’m your girl. But, sorry, I have no idea where Section C, Row 10, Seat 6 is located.
And if you see me on your court with a microphone in my hand, you can be assured you just walked into the best tennis venue in the world.
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