Serve and Volley Nostalgia
by Peter Bodo
Morning. I'm finishing off this piece about Tuesday's happenings before departing for Wednesday's programme at the Royal Albert Hall. The BlackRock Masters has a day session and an evening session, each with three matches. The evening sessions sometimes finish pretty late, so the daily reports and any photo uploads will be finished up each day in between the late evening and the morning after. Here is the link http://homepage.mac.com/rosangel/BlackRock_4_Dec_07/
to some of the pictures that I took yesterday.
I may not take so many on other days - the only issue with taking so many snaps is that it makes it hard to follow a match at the same time. A photographer wanting to capture some typical tennis shots has no real choice but to train the lens on a target, and then to track said target player until a decisive moment arrives, at which point, the shutter is fired - often in a short burst. What the other player may be doing at that moment is pure guesswork - you won't see it unless, say, both are at the net.
After the week is over, I'll find some time to sort through and process my pictures in greater detail, and revise and improve my web uploads accordingly - for now, due to lack of time, and in order not to lose the moment, I've just worked with the secondary set of unprocessed pictures straight out of the camera.
Some of these pictures may look a little grainy, because taking pictures indoors, with the low light levels, is challenging. Professional tennis photographers try to nail a shot with the ball in the frame, and an interesting pose or expression on the player's face. Not all of my pictures have the ball right there, but what the hail - from last night's discussion, some TW posters are more interested in seeing a picture of Stefan Edberg than of the ball he's hitting, right?
We can look at a fuzzy yellow ball any day of the week, and it never changes much (actually, this week's balls are Dunlop Fort Balls, for the ball-buffs mong you). As my pictures are for TW, I selected them strictly for what they show of the players and their movement - the ball is a bonus. Plus, there's one sequence in there of Tim Henman's shot preparation before hitting a backhand.
The main event of my day was the charity exhibition match between Britain's recently-retired Tim Henman, and the very popular former Wimbledon Champion (that's what matters most when in London, naturally), Stefan Edberg. As you would expect with these two, there was plenty of serve-and-volleying, which is interesting to watch on a fast indoor court. Tim won the match (in fact, a lengthened exhibition set), but not before we had seen plenty from both players (plus, one full-length tumble from Edberg, after which he mimicked hobbling back to his chair).
The match was all played in extremely good spirit, as should be obvious from some of the pictures. Earlier in the day, between the day and evening sessions, I happened to be in the press box when the two were trying out the court. I had been carefully packing up my camera gear. Of course, it all came out again - some of the shots are included in my web gallery. Soon enough, some "real" photographers appeared.
I was able to sit right on the court alongside the photo pros for the match (this magic press badge is a real treat to have and use). I was also on the court for the earlier evening match between Pat Cash and Cedric Pioline. Sitting down there is tough on the back, because you are constantly looking up, but the extra hour was well spent. The photographic challenge is different from courtside - for example, you have to worry that you might need to quickly focus in closely. Pioline beat Cash decisively - pehaps more so than some of the crowd would have liked, from their shouts of "Come on, Pat!" Cash and his chequered headband still have plenty of fans in London.
After the Henman-Edberg match was over, there was an auction held on court for Tim's Kids at Heart charity (prizes included the chance to play golf or tennis with Tim). BBC sports presenter John Inverdale did the main honours as auctioneer, ably assisted by Kim Sears. As some of you may know, she's the daughter of the LTA's Nigel Sears, but more interestingly, she's Andy Murray's girlfriend (There are some pictures of her towards the end in the gallery) She's the pretty, smiling young woman with long hair, with Tim Henman and his daughters in the background.
You may remember that Rosie Henman made a memorable appearance after Tim's last match during Davis Cup recently. She was around yesterday, too, along with her sister Olivia, clearly as a nod toward the focus of Tim's charity. There are several pictures of the two girls in my gallery. Rosie in particular seemed unable to keep still - it was amusing to watch and an unexpected, but delightful few moments to photograph.
After the auction, I found myself stuck in traffic heading for the only exit route, which was not so painful because I happened to be standing right behind Stefan Edberg. He was patiently signing autographs for a throng of fans. I had a camera at hand, but it was still outfitted with a monster long lens, and the back of the neck is not an appealing angle, even when the subject is as handsome as Edberg.
Michael Stich and Paul Haarhuis were in a bigger bind; they had to push their way through the crowd in order to get on court for their match. I simply couldn't get out, loaded down as I was with equipment - what was I going to do, ask Edberg to step aside? Oh, the hazards of playing at being a photographer.
Henman and Edberg had earlier in the day given a press conference, during which .Edberg talked a little about his business interests (he and some friends have set up and investment firm in Sweden), and his decision to move his family back to Sweden from London after 2000. He did it because it's "quieter" form them there. I found one remark he made about the modern game interesting. In reference to Tim's career in general, and at Wimbledon, he was asked "Do you think that you would have been adversely affected by the general slow-down within the game....?" He replied:
I probably would think so, yes. Because from what I hear and from what I see they really have slowed down the speed of the grass. But really what has been affected is the ball, I think. They really have slowed down the balls. They're heavier and they fluff up quite a bit and that's definitely a disadvantage if you want to be a serve and volley player. When I played I wanted quick balls, the quicker the better because I could flick my wrist and spin the ball and it's so much easier. It would have been harder to serve and volley today, plus of course the guys today return serve better than they used to in the past I think. That is quite a big improvement from when I finished.
Tim Henman, meanwhile, indicated that he has not decided what to do next. But one thing that he won't be doing anytime soon is coaching on the ATP Tour - he was asked about Andy Murray's situation (well, this is London, after all) and whether helping Murray would appeal to him. He replied:
Not really, no. If you're going to do something like that then there's a lot of travel involved and obviously that's such a big aspect and it's something I'm enjoying not doing any more.
Whoever was speculating the other day in TW about Henman-as-possible-coach-for-TMF (the eternal quest of some fans), needs to think again.I may pick out some other quotes from this press conference later, or post them in the comments, but for now, I'll sign off - until tomorrow.