Pilot Pen eyes inking No. 2 Nadal for 2007 tournament
Sean O’Rourke, Register Staff
NEW HAVEN — The top-seeded men’s double team of Paul Hanley and Kevin Ullyett was playing on stadium court at the Connecticut Tennis Center.
And there were matches of interest on the outer courts, including France’s rising star Marion Bartoli, who was impressive in quickly disposing of Gisela Dulko.
But the main stir was on court C, which is adjacent to the grandstand court, where Rafael Nadal and James Blake were practicing in front of the ground’s biggest throng. Along the courtside fence the fans were seven deep while others watched hanging over the top row of the grandstand bleachers.
Nadal, ranked second in the world, isn’t playing New Haven this week, but Pilot Pen tournament director Anne Worcester would love to have him next year. So much so that she sent a car for the colorful Mallorcan Sunday morning in New York, got him a hotel room in town for Sunday night, invited him to the players’ party that evening, and threw in all the other bells and whistles afforded to a top-seeded member of the Pen’s field.
"In our view, there’s no better way for us to recruit him for next year than to bring him here this year and show him what it’s like," Worcester said. "I told James he was in charge of recruiting him during the practice session."
Shortly after the sparring session with Blake, Nadal, the two-time defending French Open champion, waved to his fans and was whisked away on a golf court before a car returned him to New York. There he will continue his preparation for the U.S. Open and take part in a press conference in Manhattan today.
First, he got to see New Haven.
"Yeah, it was fun," Nadal said. "Everything was fine, and I want to say thank you very much to the tournament. They’ve been very nice to me."
Blake, the Pen’s defending champion and a former Fairfield resident, put in his two cents to Nadal about the 2007 tournament.
"I tried... it’s a long way away," Blake said. "I put the idea in his head."
With a push from Worcester, Nadal decided to come to Connecticut after the 20-year-old realized there was no one to hang around with in New York.
"I have a lot of friends playing here in the tournament from Spain, so I was just alone in New York," Nadal said.
Nadal practiced for two hours Sunday night with good friend Feliciano Lopez before working out for another 60 minutes. His hour session with Blake, ranked fifth in the world, started out as friendly before the testosterone took over and the two battled for the final 15 minutes to the delight of the crowd of about 400, who filled the air with ‘ooh’s and ‘ah’s’ with each passing shot.
Then Nadal was gone, but it was enough for Worcester to dream he’ll be back next summer. Nadal wasn’t ready to commit, but he did offer a glimmer of hope.
"You never know, maybe," Nadal said.
Sean O’Rourke can be reached at email@example.com
©New Haven Register 2006