Nadal, Williams, and Federer...oh, my!
08.10.2008 75 °F
I generally am a lazy person. I can't remember the last time I went for an outdoor run or lifted weights. Even riding my bike to and from work is more about lightening my carbon footprint than getting exercise. I've always loved tennis ever since I was a kid, though, and I will go out of my way to play it. Watching tennis is something I don't often do because of my lack of a TV at home, but I can easily park myself on a couch for Wimbeldon, US Open, or whatever. Seeing tennis in person is a whole other story - I absolutely love it. The first time I attended a pro tournament was the Sovran Bank Classic (now called the Legg Mason) in Washington, DC, back in 1989. A couple of years ago I happened to be in Montreal during the Rogers Cup and saw Andre Agassi during his last year on the tour.
Never could I imagine that I would witness the world's #1 and #2 men play in the same day. My cousin's wife, Peggy, asked me if I wanted to go to one of the opening sessions of tennis, and I didn't hesitate to say yes even though I already had tickets for the semifinals of men's and women's singles. It took us forever to get to the venue, the Olympic Green Tennis Court, because of closed roads and mislabeled maps. We finally got as close as we could and still had to take one of the free Olympic shuttle buses to the gate. The hassle was well-worth the effort. Once we had passed through the security checkpoint, Peggy found the information booth and discovered that Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Serena Williams would each take a turn on Center Court (the design apparently was based on a lotus flower).
Nadal appeared first and played against Potito Starace from Italy. I can't say that I ever jumped on the Rafa bandwagon - I find his style to be on the brash side - but there's no doubt that he's an awesome player. You can't win the French for the fourth straight time and then beat Federer in five sets at Wimbeldon. He didn't seem all that sharp today, though. He took the first set 6-2 without any problem, but he started slipping in the second set while Starace picked up his game and won 6-3. In the third set, each held serve until the critical fifth game when Nadal broke Starace and closed out the match at 6-2.
Serena Williams' first-round match had been suspended because of yesterday's rainstorm with her leading 6-2, 2-1, so we had the fortune of seeing her absolutely whip Olga Govortsova of Belarus. What was especially impressive about Serena was her return of serve...wow.
To complete the trifecta, Federer played Dimitry Tursunov of Russia, whom I recognized as a decent player in his own right. I can't begin to tell you how absolutely stunning Federer was. Tursunov has an awesome serve and could keep up for the most part, but Federer simply outclassed him. His backhand slice just floats over the net. His forehands are so precise and powerful. I was amazed. End of story.
After tennis Calvin (my cousin Bing's son who was at tennis with us) and I made our way across town to Chaoyang Park for beach volleyball. We had a bit of extra time and by chance ran into a Dutch couple who told us that the Heineken Holland House was open to the public. I had remembered hearing about the Holland House at the Sydney Olympics - it was actually a three-masted ship docked in Darling Harbour and the site of much partying. At the one here in Beijing, Chinese nationals apparently have to download an invitation from a Web site, but everyone else can get in with just a passport. Very cool place - they took over a large building with traditional Chinese architecture and decked it out in orange, orange, and more orange. There was an outdoor area with tents that served snacks and drinks, so we got burgers (topped with mayo and ketchup) and fries (with more mayo). Much better than the food at the Olympic venues!
Beach volleyball is pretty much what you see on TV, including music clips (many of them cheesy) played in between every single point. The weird part was the three large groups of uniformed spectators who seemed to have been planted in the audience to lead cheers or at least clap their plastic blow-up sticks in perfect sync. I can't help but wonder. Anyway, the first match featured Nicole Branagh & Elaine Youngs of the U.S. against a German team - good action and close in both sets, but the U.S. duo pulled away. The second match pitted two Australians against a pair from the Republic of Georgia, with the Aussies winning in two sets. We left after that and made the long journey by taxi back to Houshayu in the Shunyi District where we're staying.
Final notes: saw the Olympic Stadium (aka the "Bird's Nest") and the National Aquatics Center (aka the "Water Cube") on the way to and from tennis. Very cool indeed. If BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games) did one thing right, they designed great facilities and made sure they were spectator-friendly.