Last week I spent most of my waking hours at the BMW Malaysian Open women’s tennis tournament. It was the first professional tennis tournament I’ve attended. With my borderline-feverish enthusiasm for the game of tennis over the last 6–9 months, it’s not an understatement to say I was flippin’ excited.
The Monday morning tennis group had been talking up the event for several weeks beforehand, especially telling me how ‘close’ I’d get to the players. I thought this was a bit weird; why would it matter how close I’d be to the players? I mean, if I was 10 metres away or 30 meters away I didn’t care. As long as I had a decent view I would be there to enjoy the top-level tennis playing.
As it turns out, I was happy to be in close proximity to some live professional tennis, but you’d not believe how close the players were! *insert squee* They were, depending on where you sat and where they were on the court at the time, within three metres of my eyeballs.
And the price to pay for this proximity to top players? FREE for the first three days, with a season pass (for the following four days of the tournament) coming in at a whopping RM150, or A$46.50. Not too shabby.
If you have little time to be reading about some dude crapping on about a tennis tournament no one’s heard of I’ll give you the synopsis of this post: it was great, and if you’re in KL at the time of the BMW Malaysian Open, it’s well worth a look-see.
(As an aside, I had actually played on these courts before with the afore-mentioned Monday morning tennis group. The courts are part of the Bukit Kiara Equestrian Club, where some of the ladies have memberships.
It was quite impressive to see what I knew to be a standard — albeit well-maintained — hard court, turned into a playing area worthy of the title Centre Court).
Those who follow me on Instagram or are lucky enough to know me on Path1 will have seen many of these photos and videos before, but without much context. Now, for the first time ever, a world-exclusive even, they appear alongside some explanatory text. As a bonus, they’ll be in chronological order so you can get a sort of play-by-play of the event. By the end of this post you might even feel like you were actually there!
Here we go…
The big ticket players for the 2012 edition of the Malaysian Open were Venus Williams and Marion Bartoli. These are the bigwigs organisers needed to play at the event to ensure people actually went along to watch. (I heard stories that in previous years they were literally asking people to bring friends and giving away season passes just so the 1600-seat centre court looked half-full).
However both players pulled out at short notice.
In an impressive feat, they brought in some new blood: Agnieszka Radwańska (current world #5), and everyone’s favourite Jelena Janković (former world #1). Again, not too shabby. (I’m sure the organisers had to pay an appearance fee for the privilege of having some big names on the bill at the last minute).
Radwańska was announced to appear literally a couple of days before the event kicked off, and being a fellow country-woman, I was extra excited!
So I made a hat :), downloaded the ATP/WTA app, and was ready to rock.
Not many people on the first day, and even fewer wearing a giant conical straw hat with bright red letters running across it.
After trying several seat positions, I concluded the end of the court was the best view, despite my initial intentions of seeing a pro tennis game from a vantage point I’d not seen before. I had read a great piece by the late David Foster Wallace3 where he details the speed at which pro tennis players hit the ball, and how TV viewers lose a lot in the foreshortening of the court angle shown on TV. While I was keen to experience what Foster Wallace described — and to be sure, the speed the ball travels is impressive (I can only imagine what the men hit like) — I found seeing the angles the players made on court and the amount of (or lack of) ball clearance above the net to be more interesting.
I saw Jelena Jankovic play the feisty French (young) woman Caroline Garcia. The match went three sets and into a tie-breaker. Unfortunately Garcia lost, which disappointed me because she played so aggressively against a former #1 with less experience and less body mass. Fortunately for the organisers, Janković won, and the event would not be plagued by a giant upset so early in the tournament. The draw card was still in place.
So, all was well at Bukit Kiara; I was enjoying some top-level tennis, and I was free of crowds.
Then the rain came… And it would not be the only day it did. Radwańska’s first match, against Akgul Amanmuradova, was to be played the following day.
Also watched on this day: The Greek Eleni Daniilidou (two ‘i’s'!) defeated the Indian favourite Sania Mirza (cool surname, and pictured on the right of the full court image above). I didn’t know Mirza (or Daniilidou for that matter), but the collective groans and sighs from the local (Malaysian-Indian) spectators certainly did.
On the first day I wore a red t-shirt to show support for Radwańska from Poland. Of course after sitting in the KL sun, humidity, and eventually rain for a good eight hours, I could not wear it on day two. So I popped on down to my local haberdashery store to see what I could find to continue my support.
A couple lengths of red and white ribbon would do the trick to create a Polish flag I could wear upon my chest. My sewing skills are diabolical at best, but Kelly gave my handiwork the thumbs up and we agreed it was the minimum I needed to do for a successful day’s supporting.
I arrived at the event in the early afternoon wanting to catch Radwańska and her rain-delayed match from the day before. Instead of this, I was greeted by the giant TV at the entry gate broadcasting pictures of the players being escorted off the court due to another rain delay. But I was optimistic; I had a backpack full of cold water, nuts, a sandwich and some apples so I was in for the long haul.
I waited. And waited. And waited for the rain to subside. During the delay I managed to make a few friends due to my (over)-supportive Radwańska-flavoured straw hat. Which was good, ‘cos it rained for the rest of the day. It did stop occasionally and hold of long enough for the ball boys/girls to fully dry the court — and even once for the players to return to the court and complete a second warm-up — before starting again.
I waited around for long enough to decide things weren’t getting any better before I left for the day. A quick check of the tennis app when I arrived home confirmed all matches were postponed until the next day.
This sort of constant rain is not typical KL weather. It usually rains hard for an hour or so in the afternoon, then the sun comes back out. I was frustrated at the rain, as I’m sure the players were. I can only imagine what the organisers were thinking…
(This is the view opposite the car park, click to large version)
The weather on day three was much better. The sun was shining and I know I’d get to see Radwańska play the she (sort of) started way back on Tuesday (two days ago).
This was the first non-free entry day. I arrived at 11:30am to buy my season pass and watch the first match scheduled at midday. To my dismay (but not to my surprise) the ticketing booth was not set up yet! I impatiently waited until 15 minutes before start time to get over there and put some pressure on. One of the ticketing guys told me not to worry because play began at 1pm, to which I replied with a quick website load on my iPhone showing the playing times for the day. This prompted a hurrying-up of my ticket purchase and an ushering through the entry gate and a hasty stamping of my pass-out onto my wrist.
Great. It was hot and humid, and I was sweating, so the stamp lasted all of five minutes. (Upon returning from a trip to the car, I concluded that any faint black smudge of ink would get someone into the event. Though it probably helps if you’re wearing the biggest and most conspicuous hat the event had ever witnessed).
I took my seat at the far end just as Radwańska was warming up with her tall, dark-skinned4 coach. I thought it was a bit weird — where was her opponent? Maybe she had a quick toilet break? I didn’t know, but I sat myself down to enjoy watching Radwańska practise the typical warm-up stuff, consisting of:
- A minute or so of baseline rallying, forehands and backhands
- One player comes into the net to hit some volleys, usually 5–10, with a volley hit into the corner to signal the opponent to move to the next step
- Some lobs hit by the opponent and smashes by the previous volleyer, usually 3-5, with the last being put away into the corner
- Then it’s the same for the opposite player, repeating steps 2 and 3
- Finally a couple of minutes of serving warm-ups before ‘time’ is called my the umpire
I found the order of things fascinating, and wondered whether it was a sort of unwritten code or whether it’s stipulated somewhere in the rules of professional tennis tournaments. I’m guessing the former.
So, Radwańska was still hitting with her coach when ‘time’ was called by the umpire. And the realisation hit me, the coach was not a coach, but the opponent! Holy crap! Akgul Amanmuradova is almost two metres tall and built like a brick slautherhouse! She was wearing shorts, (not a skirt), no colours (black and whites only), and had a serious-looking, and dare I say ‘manly’, ankle brace. In short, I mistook her for a man! (and unfortunately I’m not the only one).
Radwańska came through pretty easily with a 6-2, 6-4 win.
Next I watched Australia’s Olivia Rogowska defeat (currently) Australian Jelena Dokić in a hard-fought, nail-biting, tie-broken 3-6, 7-4, 7-6 upset. The upset wasn’t mine actually (I have a thing about rooting for the underdog in almost all sports, so I was happy with this result.)
After some lunch and a seating change, I watched Radwańska play her second match of the day, defeating qualifier Karolína Plíšková of the Czech Rtepublic, 6-4, 6-4. My seating change was strategic, and its aim was to get close to the exit of the court to try and Radwańska to sign my embarrassingly dorky hat. (I’m not one to get autographs usually, but my mum put me up to it this time).
And sign she did. Even after my crappy Polish language skills where I said “Agnieszka, sign please!” versus my rehearsed “Agnieszka, may I have your signature, please?” And to top it all off, I accidentally left my sunglasses on. And I knew it as soon as she looked
at for my eyes to make eye contact. How rude of me. Agnieszka, if you’re reading this (and why wouldn’t you be?), I sincerely apologise.
I’d seen some good matches by this time. Even though Janković was up later I decided to head home because she had annoyed me two nights before before by taking. her. sweet. flippin. time. between. points, and it was clouding over again.
As soon as I hit the road good friend Dr. House (seen in yellow in the photo on this page called wanting to know if I was still at the tennis. I wasn’t, but the idea of having the company of a real friend as opposed to some small-talking tennis-goers, as well as the realisation I might not get to see some of these big-ticket players again if they were knocked out of the tournament, forced me to turn around and head back to the venue for the last match.
It was friday and it wasn’t good: Radwańska pulled out of the tournament with a shoulder/elbow injury (Chinese Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh skipping through to the semi-finals), and the rain was back.
Dean came down to keep me company (and to hopefully watch some tennis) and Dr. House once again made her way down once the heavens looked like they might be nice for a change.
But they weren’t. After a little bit of tennis, Claire arrived to a downpour. Attempting to keep dry — at least on the outside — we headed to the mini beer garden (it was Friday after all). We sat. After two beers and two tricks performed by a mime, we left.
Yes, a mime.
Day five (semi finals)
Saturday started early to make some headway into the pile of delayed matches that had been stacking up.
Since Radwańska was out, I needed a new focus. Scouring the late-to-post-online schedule for this day, I saw that Olivia Rogowska and the doubles team of Casey Dellacqua and Jarmila Gajdošová were all playing the same day, all representing Australia. (two representing Melbourne! Respect). I replaced my ghetto-ribboned t-shirt with my Australian
soccer football jersey, but decided to keep my hat. If the sun was out, I’d be needing it. Besides, people had come to know me in the hat, even requesting photographs of me because of it (and sometimes because of my blonde-ish hair and blue eyes).
Unfortunately, Eleni Daniilidou defeated Olivia Rogowska in the quarter-final, and the Aussie doubles pair was defeated by the Chinese Taipei pair in the semi-final. Dang.
As a result of so much rain in one week (did I mention KL doesn’t usually roll like this?), Daniilidou came back out after a ‘suitable rest’ to play her semi-final on the same day as her quarter-final. I was actually quite excited and had fingers crossed she’d come through to defeat Su-Wei Hsieh because her opponent had skipped through her match with Radwańska (did I mention I lie to root for the underdog?).
But she didn’t make it. She began to cramp up (not my expert diagnosis; I’m not a doctor) and sought medical attention to no avail. She came back to finish the match despite not running for any balls, handing Hsieh a ticket into the final. I was quite disappointed in this result as the Greek surely would’ve beaten Hsieh if she had been properly rested (assuming of course her injury was related to playing earlier in the day). Daniilidou was visibly upset as she left the court, but the crowd acknowledged her efforts with loud applause.
The second semi-final between Jelena Janković and Petra Martic was delayed.
Can you guess why?
Day Six (semi-final and final)
On the final day of the tournament I decided to skip the earlier matches (singles semi-final and doubles final) to spend some time looking after Kelly who was feeling poorly.
The semi-final between Janković and Martić was (apparently) a cracker! Three sets, weighing in at over three hours, with tie-breaker in the first and third sets. The third-set tie-breaker, i.e., the match-decider ran to a nail-biting 7-5 with Martić knocking out the former world #1 and all-tournament crowd-favourite Janković! As much as I love my wife, I regret not going to see this match. (Sorry Kelly).
The doubles final happened. Dunno who won.
(Apologies to the world of doubles tennis).
Kelly and I made it to the final. We had to park a loooooong way from the entrance but made it to the court with enough time to find our friends, out seats, and Martić and Hsieh warming up. The astute among you would’ve realised that Martić was on court for a second time, and I hoped she would not befall a fate like Daniilidou did the night before.
But she did. Looked like cramps again too (did I mention I’m not a doctor?). Unfortunate for Martić, but incredibly fortunate for Su-Wei Hsieh who had now won the BMW Malaysian Open for 2012.
I believe the rain delays throughout the entire week and scorching sun on the final day contributed significantly to Hsieh’s title.
Credit to the winner and all that, but it’s impossible to deny the luck she had in gaining her first WTA singles title5. Hsieh had dodged Radwańska’s bullet in the quarter-final, faced a hindered Daniilidou in her second match of the day in the semi-final, and played a final with an opponent who had experienced several hours of highly-competitive world-class tennis in full middle-of-the-day sun only three hours earlier.
But you can’t control the weather, right?
Well, you can’t, but perhaps Su Wei Hsieh can…
I enjoyed live tennis. A lot. Maybe more than a reasonable man should’ve. Admittedly the initial puppy-dog-wee-excitement dissipated somewhat once I’d figured out how everything works, but watching the tennis itself was fantastic and inspirational.
And we have with a new wall hanging from the experience :)
The men’s competition happens later in the year. Hopefully we’re still in KL to see it.
- :P ↩
- Day one relates to the first day I went, which was actually day two of the event. ↩
- Another good piece of his about the pro tennis tour can be read here ↩
- I originally wrote “black” instead of “dark-skinned”, but it sounded quite non-PC. I couldn’t say African-American ‘cos I had no idea where this person was from. Am I too sensitive? ↩
- Hsieh is an accomplished doubles player (win/loss of 8/5), trying her hand at singles. Her playing style is definitely doubles-oriented, with many well-placed shots and difficult angles, but not much in the way of typical baseline game or power. To be fair, it was an interesting contrast of tennis styles in the semi-final and final, but it was clear from both matches her opponents had the upper hands in the first set and some of the second before they tired and began cramping (not a doctor). ↩