Stand there long enough and tennis’s most important people will pass by.
Mostly, this lawn belongs to the players and their families and support staffs, along with the occasional interloper — journalists, sponsors and security guards. This lawn, sometimes called the players’ garden, serves as a warm-up area, a meeting place, a sanctuary, a relaxation chamber, a tanning bed and, oddly, a smoking section.
On Wednesday afternoon, the lawn featured the usual suspects: players (obviously), coaches, trainers, massage therapists, agents, publicists, handlers, wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, children, producers, reporters, television personalities and sponsors.
They sat on folding chairs and lawn chairs and padded chairs. They held tennis bags and boom microphones and digital recorders, iPhones and iPods and iPads. They carried giant tennis bags stuffed with rackets and laundry bags filled with dirty clothes and, in the case of one woman who sat in the sun on a couch, a travel bag within which she placed her small, barking dog.
Justin Gimelstob reclined in another chair and surveyed the scene. As a commentator for the Tennis Channel, a retired pro and a member of the ATP World Tour board, Gimelstob seemed to know everyone. It was tennis’ version of Kevin Bacon and “Six Degrees of Separation,” although in this case, in this space, one degree usually sufficed.
“You’ve got Andy Murray walking in, with some guy, who knows what his role is,” Gimelstob said, as he gestured about the lawn. “You’ve got Roger Federer’s agent talking to the president of the ATP Tour. You have John Isner’s mom. You have the French Davis Cup captain. You have a player warming up over there, stretching. You have, well …” He paused.
“You have everything.”
Suddenly, Gimelstob rose from the chair and bounded across the lawn.
“I have to see James Blake’s baby,” he said excitedly, and Gimelstob made his way over to the child, in a stroller, with her mom, and planted a kiss on young Riley Elizabeth Blake’s forehead. Isner’s mom, Kathy, soon joined them.
The lawn is a family affair, a snapshot of both tours, the number of players involved and the sheer volume of people who manage them. It sits near the players’ entrance, opposite where fans enter, near the media center and the practice court, so close to the cacophony of the Open and yet also somewhat removed from it.
Out there, it still feels like New York, like the Open. Arthur Ashe Stadium hovers overhead, and when the crowd roars, those clustered on the lawn can hear it. Planes fly overhead. Cars honk. Through one set of glass windows near the players’ entrance, the assembled can see dozens of racket stringers furiously at work, Santa’s workshop for the tennis set.
Yet the lawn is also protected, ringed by a fence that is covered in blue netting. It is not possible to see over the fence, or through the netting. You cannot enter without an appropriate pass.
“Out there is chaos,” Gimelstob said. “In here, you’re kind of protected. It’s like a little, isolated, tennis cocoon. To have a place away from the chaos is important.”
Early Wednesday afternoon, the lawn was full. The tiny dog, freed from the travel bag, sipped water from a tiny bowl. A mother tended to her child with a tennis bag at her feet. Three players jogged in the corner. One coach napped. Other players conducted a series of interviews based on rules like broadcast rights and other whims. The bar in the back was crowded.
Victoria Azarenka, fresh off her straight-sets, second-round victory, walked onto the lawn for interviews. Hands were shaken. Pleasantries exchanged. The WTA employee who accompanied Azarenka wore bright, neon, floral-print pants.
Azarenka changed into a green T-shirt for one interview, then changed back for another.
“Do you know Bob?” someone asked her. Azarenka nodded. More handshakes.
She answered the same questions, over and over again. She said “good performance” and “I adjusted really well” repeatedly. Onlookers snapped her picture with their cellphones.
Later, Azarenka returned to the lawn to relax. She kicked her neon pink shoes up on a table and chatted with Mikhail Kukushkin, who lost his match on Wednesday.
The activity continued on around them. It was a sponsor’s paradise, with what seemed like every piece of clothing and accessory labeled for a fee. Players and their entourages wore sponsored T-shirts, hats, socks, shoes, polo shirts and warm-up pants. They drank sponsored water, soda and sports energy drinks. They carried sponsored bags and sunscreen.
Only the laundry bags were blank. Perhaps not for long.
As the day wore on, the players’ garden filled and emptied and filled again. A producer for the Tennis Channel burst in at one point, hurried and harried, and said, “All right, how are we doing here?” A cameraman dabbed sweat from his forehead. Kim Clijsters, before she lost what is likely her final Grand Slam singles match, dropped off tickets at the entrance.
Lindsay Davenport exited. Murray entered. Melanie Oudin left and came back in. The Open carried on around them, a two-week tennis party just beyond the lawn.
There was no garden, not really, anyway. But near the chaos, there was this lawn, and on this lawn, there was peace.R Soft Web Hosting