August 09, 2012
Tennis fan Daniel Meagher visited Rogers Cup presented by National Bank on Wednesday to spend the day at Grandstand Court and share his experience. Find out about his day below.
By Daniel Meagher
I’m struck immediately by a wave of familiarity. The York University campus. The Rexall Centre terrain. The cartoonish golf cart horns that clear paths and help transport players to and from the outside courts. The anticipation of young children as they point to names and reel off facts, in that nervous way children do when they want a friend or parent to share an interest. All around, both young and old exclaiming that there’s more to the sport than ball, net and racquet.
My first trip to Rogers Cup presented by National Bank was four years ago, on a Tuesday that didn’t see a completed match until the late afternoon. The morning consisted of tents, pre-match warm-ups and site memorization. When the rain finally cleared, my dad, brother and I headed to Centre Court to see a comfortable Rafael Nadal victory before wandering the grounds. We eventually settled at Grandstand Court where hours later, in fading daylight, Fernando González played José Acasuso in a competitive, if not high-quality match. Surrounded by dozens of Chilean fans, my dad sat in the top row, wearing a rain jacket with nearly the identical pattern and colour of Acasuso’s shirt. He cheered the Argentine to victory, jesting that everyone there must have thought him a coach or trainer. I remember the setting seemed unparalleled, combining the intimacy of smaller courts with the feel of Centre Court. Even this morning, having attended several tournaments since, it’s the court where I most remember becoming invested in matches—where I developed an unconditional appreciation for the sport. It’s where I became obsessed.
My girlfriend and I decide to grab seats in the Sky Lounge, set just above the north side of the stands. Along with Hawkeye, the Sky Lounge is the most obvious addition to Grandstand this year. Besides being a snack tent, the area provides what is certain to be one of the most desirable elements of the day (and I don’t mean beer, though it provides that as well)—shade. The last few sessions I’ve attended at Rogers Cup have been scorching and today is no exception as the temperature on court is expected to reach upwards of 38°C.
It’s a relief to find that the attributes I loved about the court in previous years are still intact. For one, sitting near the top of either the west or east sides allows a view of the surrounding courts. Even in the Lounge, the north ends of two practice courts are visible, one of which has already seen a number of shirtless players hitting with one another. My girlfriend looks over every game or two, hopeful that Andy Murray will show up, all the while voicing satisfaction with what she sees. To all jealous men: do not bring your partner here.
More than anything, I’m thrilled that the court has maintained its intimacy. The stands are still close enough to the players to show off the exertion and technique that are often imperceptible on most stadium courts. The effect is an almost surreal fluidity—you don’t realize how good these guys are until you see them on a side court, a woman remarks.
Also new to the court is the announcer. On top of his dedication to correctly pronouncing every player’s name, he has an extremely likable quality and all-ages humour that can’t help but induce a smile. He refers to Grandstand Court as the hidden gem of Rexall Centre, which seems surprisingly accurate considering the attendance throughout the first couple of matches.
With my companion off in search of Murray, I climb to the top corner of the stands to join the group watching Raonic and Troicki close out a victory on Court One. A practice session concludes on Court Two, while in front of me a tight third set continues. For the most part the matches have involved high quality, competitive tennis, which always impresses me in such humid conditions. A three-hour contest between Tomas Berdych and Julien Benneteau, including an hour and 29-minute first set, highlights what has been an exceptional display of serving and ball striking.
Between matches the announcer conducts various audience contests and promotions while awaiting the arrival of the players. With Murray’s match nearly finished on Centre Court (the last of the day session), dozens of people flock over to Grandstand. Yet another appealing feature of the court is that it generally has more competitive matches than those on Centre and, therefore, play typically extends into the evening. These daytime remnants join with the early arrivals for the night session to create a distinctive atmosphere for the Tommy Haas-Gilles Simon match. The packed crowd calls out for winners, groans for errors, and rhythmically accompanies every challenge. It’s a different Haas from the player I saw here four years ago. He’s not imploding over controversial calls or smashing his racquet after losing. The winners fly from all angles and it’s Simon who berates himself over his inconsistent play.
Just before Sam Querrey and Kei Nishikori step on court, much of the crowd disperses, some to Centre Court, others home. What remains is an exhausted, persistent and somehow still enthused bunch, eight hours on, still craving long rallies and clean winners. They continue to hold conversations, in French or English, all at different levels of understanding and depth. From common rules about lets to different methods of generating spin to the handedness of Novak Djokovic. It all amounts to what a tennis court can be—a place where one can sit through four consecutive matches and experience four distinct events. Where at any point a daughter might turn to her mother, or a father to his son and say, without even a hint of contrivance, ‘I get it now.’