Friday, September 4, 2009

The Alchemists

by Savannah

Great behind the scenes look at just how the daily Order of Play is put together in the New York Times

The biggest tennis matches at the United States Open happen on the blue hard court of Arthur Ashe Stadium. But the true epicenter of the tournament is an obscure, windowless room in the stadium’s bowels, behind a door marked “private.”

That is where the plot-twisting logistical calisthenics of producing the daily “Official Order of Play” — the schedule for all matches — takes place.

The walls are filled with 16 large flat-screen televisions lit to display everything from up-to-the-minute brackets, live tennis matches, and, mostly important, a working spreadsheet of the next day’s schedule. In the center of the room is a raised drafting table with a keyboard and a mouse, off-limits to all but a few high-ranking tournament officials

Through the door come and go television and tennis tour executives. They march in to request that certain matches be played at certain times on certain courts. They walk out knowing that the ultimate decision rests with the tournament director, Jim Curley.

“It’s the biggest issue I deal with over the two weeks,” Curley said. And it occurs every day, almost all day.

The task is to balance the often conflicting desires of players (who submit match-time preferences before the tournament), coaches (who often have more than one pupil and prefer they play at different times), broadcasters (including three in the United States and a litany of others around the world, each hoping to boost ratings with well-timed slots for particular players) and ticket holders (some holding passes for daytime matches, others with tickets to the prime-time show, all wanting compelling tennis spread evenly throughout their stay).

While matchups are cemented according to the bracket, Curley is the ultimate arbiter of where the tournament’s nearly 1,000 matches are played (there are 18 courts), what time they begin (as early as 11 a.m. or long after dark), and which stars to pit under the lights at Ashe Stadium, a slot that the United States Tennis Association touts as the biggest stage in the sport.

By 4 p.m., if all goes well, Curley and his schedule-making crew, including the referee Brian Earley and the assistant referee Keith Crossland, release the order of play for the next day. It arrives rather silently with great expectations.
Curley can handle second-guessing — he acknowledged that the Williams sisters should have played their doubles match on Thursday at one of the two big stadiums, not the overflowing Grandstand — but desperately wants to avoid complaints about fairness.

The process is usually simpler when the brackets hold to form and as the field pares to a more manageable size. Put the top players — Roger Federer, Nadal, the Williams sisters — into the prime spots and fill in the gaps between. Follow the rules. Ponder the pleas. Print the schedule. Repeat the next day.

But what to do with bracket busters, someone likethe unseeded 17-year-old American Melanie Oudin, who upset No. 4 Elena Dementieva on Thursday (at Ashe Stadium) and is fast becoming a crowd favorite?

Oudin elicited a spirited conversation in the room on Thursday afternoon. There was concern raised about the possibility of her playing three doubles matches (one mixed) before her next singles match on Saturday. Could one match move from Friday to Saturday, after her singles match, an official asked? It became moot when Oudin and her partner lost in doubles early on Thursday evening.


Helen W said...

And of course, their very first priority is to take extra special care of Mr. Monogram. Mr Monogram prefers day matches? Of course -- how about first up Saturday morning? Rafa prefers day matches? How about last up on Friday evening?

Same old, same old.

Maru said...

That Dinara match was ridiculous!
She did nothing, she created nothing, all she got was given to her by her opponent.
Yes she made a few good points, and she claw her way through the match, but Petra Kvitova could (or should) have win that match in 2 sets.
It was really sad the tone of pity that the commentators used during the entire match, either to describe the difficulty that both players had to hold their own serve at the beginning of the match, the constant problem (that they clarified is a problem that most of the WTA players have) with the serve and the double faults, the display (or lack of if) of tennis of the Real No.1 player and what they agreed was a lack of a good coach (because a good one would show improvement on their coached player).
I’ve read before that all of this (or most of this) should not impress or be anything new to a usual tennis fan but I totally agree with what you’ve said before that a new or sporadic viewer would be completely unimpressed by the quality (in the best case because let me tell you I was completely terrified by the lack of quality shown) and easily leave with the worse impresion.
I was glad I’ve got to see young Oudin thinking and performing today. Because after going through this night nightmare of a match I was completely happy with the lack of coverage that ESPN Deportes (ESPN Latin America) has of the WTA, because if pretty much all the matches are like what I witnessed tonight I don’t think I’d be interest in investing my time on the WTA.

Helen W said...

Here is something oddman sent me from

Kolya Davydenko has just finished his interview to Russian TV. He wasn't exactly complaining, because he smiled nicely all the time, so let's call it "he described some problems". He said that regardless of what organizers stated, all the courts in the US Open played differently. And a player who is placed in one and the same court has an advantage. Kolya played three rounds in 3 courts: Nos.4, 7 and 11. So he played 3 matches on 3 different surfaces, and every match was like the 1st one for him in terms of feeling the surface.

When asked whether he preferred playing against Soderling or Querrey, he said that he'd rather play against Soderling whom he hated, than vs Querrey, because there's a very good chance that Sod's match will be placed in Court 11, while Querrey's match will be definitely placed in one of the bigger courts.

Then his smile broadened to its extremity, and he said: "You want somebody to lose? Relocate him to a different court. From Ashe to Armstrong, for example". The next question was: "Are you speaking about Dinara?". The answer was: "Is that what they did to her? No, I was thinking about last year semifinals"

Same old, same old.

Savannah said...

Thank you Helen. And thank you Kolya for calling the baby ugly.

I guess this is why he's not such a popular guy with TPTB. In my opinion he doesn't owe them jack after they almost destroyed his career.