Saturday, September 27, 2008
Chilling Tennis Action
Summer seems to have left abruptly, leaving many of us wondering what we did to offend her.
In the last week, the temperatures in Beijing have dropped so much, that I am already wearing sweaters and jeans.
Over a week ago there was a giant rainstorm that has pretty much plunged the capital into chilly autumn weather, if you're into that.
So I had to dress extra warmly for the Beijing Open that is on this week. Last night my colleague and I got tickets to the semi-finals.
We got the cheapie tickets at 200RMB ($29.21) each and at first thought the event would be held in the new tennis courts for the Beijing Olympics.
We were wrong when I looked more closely at the ticket and realized it was all the way in Fengtai, southwest of the city.
So we snuck out of work a bit earlier and took the subway Line 5 all the way down to the second last stop Yizhuang and got out of exit D.
Subway station staff told us to take that exit, go west and then turn left at the first set of lights.
The directions were clear enough and after about 10 minutes of walking, we saw the bright lights of the Beijing Tennis Center.
There were many scalpers outside asking if we wanted tickets, but organizers were still selling them at the door.
After our tickets were scanned, we went through a haphazard security check that was half-hearted. The woman only half wanded me.
As we had about an hour to go before the match started, we wandered around the grounds.
At the practice courts from a distance we could see Zheng Jie, China's last hope in the tournament, practicing with her husband. My colleague hoped we would see her in action. I took pictures in case we wouldn't.
Then we spotted KFC and grabbed a bite to eat.
The selection there was few and far between -- we got spicy chicken burgers and chicken wings -- but no fries available!
We quickly ate our dinner and wandered around a bit more. All the sponsors seemed to offer video games on tennis for people to try which was boring. But it was the only way people could win stuff.
Instead we opted to do a good deed and I bought two used tennis balls from the tournament at 10RMB each with the proceeds donated to a youth charity.
It was a good idea, and wondered if I could get the rest of the balls for my tennis group...
We weren't allowed into the stands until just after 7pm which was annoying, as we had to stand outside and wait.
Finally when we were allowed in, we were high up, but it was close enough to see the tennis stars in action.
First up -- Andy Roddick against German Bjorn Phau.
As crowds were still filing in when they started the match, Roddick shouted out many times at the stands for people to be quiet. There were many noisy people, mostly at the back, and didn't realize the game had already started.
Roddick easily won the first set 6-2 in less than 20 minutes. I thought the game would be over in an hour.
But Phau refused to be beaten that quickly, and came back in the second set, despite having more enforced errors. At one point they were going back and forth at deuce for about eight times. Phau finally won 7-6 (7-4) in a tie-break.
Losing that set made Roddick throw his racquet down -- the first of three times in the match. The second time he did it, the racquet bounced back up at him, which almost caught him off guard.
But he quickly channeled his frustration and won the third set 6-1, but not without a good fight from Phau.
At times we shouted, "C'mon Andy!" in English and "Andy, jia you!" in Chinese.
When he won just before 9pm he looked relieved and finally looked up at the appreciative crowd.
He also shot some autographed tennis balls into the audience too before he left.
After a short break, China's Zheng Jie was on the court with world no 4. Russian Svetlanda Kuznetsova warming up.
Zheng had beaten Ana Ivanovic to get here, and she had recently beaten the world No. 2 at Wimbledon.
Although smaller in size, Zheng makes it up by trying to keep her legs moving and tries to play different angles on the court.
And right from the beginning, Zheng began grunting, that was quickly followed by Kuznetsova.
Everytime Zheng won a point, the crowd cheered. And when they took breaks, the audience got into a chant, "Zheng Jie, jia you!" which we all enthusiastically joined in.
It looked like a pretty even match, with Zheng firing a few winners, and Kuznetsova having a few errors here and there.
The first set ended in a tie-breaker, with Zheng losing 7-6 (7-3), signalling she didn't want to be put down that easily.
There were times when Zheng broke Kuznetsova's serve and periodically (men) would shout "break her!" which got laughs from the crowd.
But in the second set Kuznetsova slowly wore Zheng down, placing the ball in open areas that she couldn't run to in time.
Zheng tried really hard to hang on, but in the end it wasn't enough, and lost the second set 7-5.
She got a big cheer from the crowd just before she left center court and she waved in appreciation.
I have to mention that throughout both matches, we were all freezing. And when the players took breaks, I got up and jumped around or jogged on the spot to keep my blood circulating, despite wearing several layers of clothes. Others who had been to the tournament earlier in the week were very smart and wore winter down jackets.
The game ended at 11pm and we rushed out to snag a taxi, which we eventually did. It was tiring to stay warm, but the tennis was exciting.