Bank of the West Classic Blog: Qualifying Day 1

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Updated: July 24, 2010

STANFORD, California—It’s a gorgeous day on the Stanford Campus, and Bank of the West Classic qualifying has begun in full force, with a field of 32 would-be main draw contestants that will soon be whittled down to four.

(Quick question: Since there are two byes in the first round, why not let six qualifiers in the main draw or hand out two more wildcards?)

Matches are going on at three courts, with notable names such as Bethanie Mattek Sands, Mirjana Lucic, Michelle Larcher de Britto, and Michaella Krajicek all set to take a whack at qualifying for the first Premier event of the hard court season.

For diehard tennis fans, it’s a dream come true: free admittance and high quality tennis on three courts. Everybody knows the qualifiers exist, but you don’t get a feel for what a good deal they are until you pull up a chair courtside, and find yourself close enough to the action to steal a sip of Bethanie Mattek’s Gatorade.

I think qualifying at a big event like this has to be one of the best bargains in all of professional sports. Check it out sometime if you have the opportunity.

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Marion BartoliI was sitting at the computer in the media room when Marion Bartoli strolled in with an entourage of WTA staff to get the draw ceremony rolling. Marion was all smiles as she took a seat behind a big purple WTA Tour microphone, and I must say I was a little bit stunned to discover just how athletic she looks in person. People generally don’t talk about being wowed by Marion’s physical presence, but what a lot of those people don’t realize is that Marion could probably beat them all in arm-wrestling and long distance running – before breakfast, and without any makeup on.

Anyhow, there weren’t a lot of us in the room to witness the ceremony, so Sam Henderson of IMG had us all taking part in the draw by picking the numbers out of the hat (each number representing a player’s name). I picked Melanie Oudin’s name first, but I’m really not sure what that is supposed to mean. If she wins the tournament, we can pick up the discussion at that time.

With 8 top-20 players in the draw, The Bank of the West Classic has once again managed to cull a bevy of world-class players to compete for the winner’s check of $98,500. How do they do it? What is it about this tournament that draws all these big-name players. I mean, when a big name like Vera Zvonareva pulls out of the draw with injuries, and people hardly bat an eyelash, you know they’ve got a stacked draw here.

I guess you have to give some of the credit where it’s due: California has powers of magnetic attraction. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to visit The Golden State and get paid to play tennis while doing it? That being said, credit also has to go to Bank of the West, for putting the show on, and tournament director Kim Hall Uliasz for making sure that everything makes the players feel good in that “I think I might come back here next year” sort of way.

I’m not really certain if Victoria Azarenka or Yanina Wickmayer care that Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, and Martina Navratilova are among the legends who have won this event. But their coaches and agents most certainly do.

*****

Speaking of Victoria Azarenka and Yanina Wickmayer, and moving on to the matters at hand, both are out on the practice courts as I write. In fact, the practice courts for the last hour have been a veritable Who’s Who in women’s tennis. The three courts that are holding qualifying are seeing good crowds (free tennis on a beautiful Pac-10 campus on an idyllic day, anyone?) but there are just as many people oohing and aahing as the real stars of the tour put the final shine on their hardcourt game.

Here are some of the notable in attendance:

Dinara Safina is absolutely crushing balls today – but really, should that come as a surprise? What is surprising, or at least interesting – maybe ironic is the best word – is that Zelko Krajan was on the court right next to her. Zelko was keeping an eye on his new player, Dominika Cibulkova, but he did shoot a few glances in Safina’s direction.

After watching Sam Stosur practice her serve for about thirty minutes at the end of her session, I got the feeling that she is going to be a top player for a long time on the WTA Tour. The surf-loving Aussie can flat-out pulverize the ball, and it’s pretty impressive to witness in person. By the time it reaches the net, the ball resembles an egg more than it does a Penn.

Elena Dementieva and Victoria Azarenka are having a hit right alongside of returning champion Marion Bartoli and Yanina Wickmayer. Dementieva and Azarenka are playing like old friends out to burn a few calories, while Bartoli and Wickmayer look like they are playing for a million dollars, a boy that they both have a crush on, and the last drop of water in the world. Talk about a funny juxtaposition.

Doubles partners Maria Kirilenko and Agnieszka Radwanska are playing some pretty entertaining cat-and-mouse tennis, and laughing about it as well.

My personal highlight of the day was watching Elena Dementieva do 10 pushups on the track after her pre-practice warm-up. That’s the stuff they never show on TV.

That’s it for now, I’m going to head back out to the sunshine, and see if anyone has been blinded by Victoria Azarenka’s candy apple red tennis shoes.

See you tomorrow!

Chris Oddo is a freelance tennis writer and blogger who is based in San Francisco, California. He is a regular commenter at OTB under the moniker The Fan Child. You can follow his blog at http://thefanchild.blogspot.com.

Comments

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7 Legacy Comments

  1. @notsleeping

    July 24, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for the report! Who players practice with, & how intense they train, are hard to find out

  2. Aaress Lawless

    July 24, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    That’s great news about Dinara, Chris. I’m hoping that she’s fully recovered and can start her long road back as a contender once again on Tour.

    Thanks for the great update! Looking forward to reading lots more from Stanford!

  3. Alice

    July 25, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Please excuse me quoting verbatim from my own blog, but you make a good observation Chris….

    [Meeting France's leading player for the first time, Kessel immediately observed how, "Despite all the hype about Bartoli's weight, in person she seems rather normal."

    Having gone to see Marion each year since 2008, I have always been struck by the disconnect which exists between the perception fans on message boards have of Marion Bartoli, and what she actually looks like in real life, particularly with respect to her weight and build. Over that time I have seen Marion play 13 tennis matches, while many of her cruel detractors have never set eyes on her in person at all. Yet with evident good humor, Marion puts it best, "I don't feel that big. Maybe something is wrong with me but I just think I'm normal. I'm not super-skinny but I'm not super-fat." She's just Super Marion.]

    Enjoy you’re week Chris.

  4. Topspinner

    July 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Really enjoyed the behind the scenes coverage. Thanks!

  5. Romi

    July 26, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Loving the coverage, Chris. Great write-up! It’s always interesting to hear an onlookers perspective on how athletes train and communicate with each other. They tend to be more telling than a simple broadcaster’s opinion, so thanks!

    Also, it’s really interesting to hear your view on Bartoli. I had watched her play against Clijsters at the US Open last year and I was surprised by her physicality as well. It seems that when one reporter makes a negative comment about a player (such as Bartoli’s ‘weight’), others latch on without any further research and paint a picture that is not always accurate. Likewise, I had read last year that Soderling had no on-court presence. When I watched him practice in person I was stunned by his power and fitness and couldn’t have disagreed more with assessment I had read earlier. These types of evaluations may be more based on personal opinions, but I praise an athlete’s commitment to the sport. I know I’m not built to do what they do, so it’s quite refreshing hearing praise about a player like Bartoli.

  6. the fan child

    July 26, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Romi – I was at that match in New York last year too – I thought Marion was going to end the fairy tale pretty early. I’ve always like Miss Bartoli because she is unconventional, and after this week I like her even more because I have discovered that she is very forthcoming and engaging in person. And she likes her dad and is grateful to him for being her coach and supporter – as much as people liken him to a “mad scientist” and sort of look for what is strange about him rather than what is good – there can be no denial of the fact that he and his daughter have gotten consistent results on the Tour.

  7. the fan child

    July 26, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Alice – I’m with you on all you said.

    @notsleeping: More on that “intensity” you speak of in today’s blog…