Lobs and Volleys

Back when I could play tennis, I had absolutely zero interest in watching anyone else play, but when I got decrepit enough that I couldn’t play, suddenly I became a passionate tennis fan.

I’ve been buying a complete set of tickets for the SAP Open for a number of years now, and occasionally I’ve written up parts of the tournaments from a gay green foodie perspective even though I feared this approach might well overly limit my audience. I mean, I did a little survey one morning of the tennis fans in Section 104 of the HP Pavilion, and I didn’t find a single one who would admit to being a fellow gay green foodie. Some even got a little shirty about being asked.

Still, I gotta try it, and if these tales bog down for you, hopefully you can find something entertaining in the journals or travel tales or recipes, even, before you give up on me.

Oh, and here’s why i love Dimitry:

Dimitry Tursunov



SAP Open – 10 February 2005

Here’s an episode from the 2005 tournament that I’m thinking is sufficiently unusual that it might entertain folks with no interest at all in tennis.

We shall see.

What went on is that in the period leading up to Roddick’s match at 7:00, I was stalking Lars Graff. The famed Swede, my favorite chair umpire. I have never seen him make an error, and he can silence the most rowdy players with a glare that clearly leaves second degree burns if he plays it on their exposed flesh. In my continuing attempt to be remembered as one of the weirder individuals in San Francisco, which is admittedly setting the bar pretty high, I’m leaving the stalking of players to the youngsters.

And Andy has a legion of admirers eager to show their appreciation in graphic ways. A couple of years ago, Andy was dating Mandy Moore. Someone asked her whether, since they were both stars, there was any difference in the adulation they got. “Well,” she observed, “Nobody’s mailing me their underwear.”

Now, even as a neophyte stalker I know you have to study the prey’s behavior patterns and the security apparatus set up to keep you away. You look for weak points, guards who can be blackmailed or bribed…or perhaps merely deceived by an innocuous tale told by a harmless old eccentric, shabbily dressed but clean.

One could, for example, in the break between the Blake and Haas matches, engage in conversation one of the dozens of attendants who guard the doors to the concourse from the preferred lower seating, the same attendant toward whom one has been radiating genteel niceness for the past three days and who now waves one in without requiring yet another examination of the complete pad of Preferred seat tickets.

One could extract from this guard with mere guile rather than today’s trendy torture the location of the room where the officials gather between matches. One could even pry out an approach to the room and enlist the aid of one’s dare we now say confederate in getting past the pushover guard at the concourse level elevator entrance and then past the somewhat more suspicious one at the bottom.

Second door to the left, plainly labeled “Officials.” Lars, as I’ve started to call him, is not present, which is hardly a surprise, but by addressing the mere linesmen as if they were as important as chair umpires I am able to ferret out that Lars will be officiating tonight for Andy’s match.

But it gets a little complicated after this, so to cut to the coup I’ll just say that when I am finally face-to-face with Mr. Graff, I discover that he is unaccustomed to taking compliments from strangers. Apparently he’d never been accosted by a man describing himself as a long-term admirer of the finest chair umpire on the circuit. But after the initial shock, he gives me a big smile and thanks me.

In future, when you see him scratch his right ear on television, it’s for me.

The tennis? Well, regarding the Roddick vs. Goldstein match, I discover that forgetting my hearing aids is actually a blessing, as the seats immediately behind me are occupied by teenage girls who scream in either commiseration or congratulation after every point and sometimes after shots within rallies. Roddick takes the set 6-3 in the most boring fashion.

The second set is slightly more interesting since Goldstein ups his level so much that he has a couple of good games and even staves off four match points before Roddick takes it 6-4. A significant fraction of the audience swarm like ants for the railings.




SAP Open – Monday 13 February 2006

The first night’s match is scheduled to be Andre Agassi vs. Scoville Jenkins, a 19-year-old up-and-comer who improved his ATP rating last year from 744 to 247. In this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle, I read that when he heard his first-round opponent was going to be Andre, “he showed no emotion.”

I applaud that. I hope that I’d be able to do as well if told that, for the delectation of the coliseum audience, I was going to be handed a tennis racquet and pushed into the arena with an aging lion…it a crowd favorite, yet.

Am I fired up for this or what? I start the day out right by Segwaying down to the gym for a quick workout, then back here to jump in the shower and off for San Jose. I’m taking 101 down so I can stop at Dianda for a pastry since I earned it at the gym, or at least the first few bites of it.

Owing to quite a bit of traffic, I reach the parking lot at the HP Pavilion showing 57 cumulative MPG.

Turns out the lion got a thorn in his paw and withdrew last night, as did Xavier Malisse, which was for me a pretty much equal disappointment. Have I subconsciously written Andre off?

When I arrive this morning, our Belgian beanpole Kristof Vliegen (who cannot possibly weigh more than 150 lbs and is clearly about seven feet tall) and some South Afrikaan named Haggard are playing the first match of the tournament against Jim Thomas, whom I don’t know, and Paul Goldstein, for whom I picked up a dislike last year.

Alas, my dislike for Goldstein and love for Vliegen are insufficient, and the Americans win.

The second match is singles – Cyril Saulnier, the Frenchman Roddick guillotined in the finals last year, against a newcomer who, in spite of being named Bjorn Phau, is German. Saulnier of course is heavily favored, but Phau, who is much cuter, breaks him in the first game and serves out the set, 6-4.

Smells like an upset coming when Phau breaks Saulnier early in the second set, but just to keep us interested Saulnier breaks back. However, Phau breaks him again at 6-5 and takes the match. Quite an upset, even though Saulnier was playing over his head to get to the finals last year.

I dash off to La Pastaia, that fab place in the De Anza Hotel about 200 yards away where I took Gloria for dinner between the semifinals last year for one of the very best meals I had all year.

Instead of just having a little chicken salad or something, I ended up with this trout that had been butterflied, boned, turned inside out around a big sprig of fresh rosemary wrapped in very thin lemon slices, bound in thin strips of pancetta, and somehow roasted so that the pancetta was crisp but the trout was not dried out. How in hell did they do that? In a 700-degree pizza oven??? In any case, delicious.

It is accompanied by a good square of fried polenta and a big heap of that sautéed spinach that Gloria and I both agreed last year was the best sautéed spinach we’d ever eaten. Still is.

But since there’s now no question about where I’m having dinner tonight, I confine myself to a cup of black coffee for dessert.

Get back from lunch during Querry vs. Spadea. Looks like there’s going to be another upset as Querry wins the first set in a tiebreak. He’s got a nice inside-out forehand and hits lotsa aces, but Spadea is way too experienced and takes the second two sets. A good many long rallies here and seriously enjoyable tennis except that I don’t like Spadea’s attitude.

For example, in courteous tennis the server sets the pace, and Querry is always standing there waiting for Spadea’s serve. When Querry’s serving, though, Spadea likes to wander around behind the base line for a while before graciously signaling he’s ready.

Next up it’s Scoville Jenkins, who surely allowed the tiniest show of emotion when he learned last night that he was not being thrown to the lion after all but was getting to play a lucky loser named Travis Rettenmaier.

In comparison with Jenkins, Rettenmaier is nobody; however he’s a really really good-looking nobody with the best butt this side of Thomas Johansson. (Unfortunately, the Johansson playing in this tournament is ugly cousin Joachim.) Looks like another upset in the making, as Rettenmaier takes the first set 7-5.

But Jenkins roars right back and takes the second set 6-3. For the third set I move down four rows and discover that I may actually be able to follow the play as well from that close. I also notice that Rettenmaier sports a spectacular six-pack. And even though he doesn’t have Jenkin’s power, he takes the third set in the second upset of the day.

So what Jenkins thought was a reprieve turns out to be merely a brief stay. He just gets eaten by a different lion than expected.

Back over to La Pastaia for dinner, where I decide to go easy so I can try one of their desserts. So I just have coffee and this little pizza, except when it arrives, it’s not all that little. It’s pancetta, sweet onion, garlic, sage, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. The pancetta is lightly crisp and tender, the onions and garlic are perfectly caramelized, the crust is thin and crisp, and all the ingredients are in total balance. In short, like everything else I eat here, it’s perfect. I cannot remember ever eating a better pizza.

How is it that I somehow walked right past this place for years without ever trying it?

Even though the pizza is plenty of food, I make the mistake of going ahead and just looking at the dessert menu.

Sigh. There’s a chocolate crême brulée with whipped cream and chocolate biscotti. Surely, I think, this can’t be as good as the chocolate crême brulée that Fran Gage used to make a couple of decades ago in her bakery up at the top of 18th Street, an astonishing creation that I still dream about. Alas, she unaccountably omitted the recipe from Chocolate Obsessions, the book she and Michael Recchiuti recently published.

Can’t know without trying it, can I?

The biscotti are really hard and crunchy, so I swab them into the mountain of whipped cream. Very, very good. Didn’t judge it quite right, though, because a fair amount of cream is left.

Then I get into the chocolate and see my error – it’s too chocolatey without some cream in every bite. Soooooo delicious.

But finally I have a complaint – a menu accuracy issue. However delicious this dessert is, it is not a chocolate crême brulée. It’s a chocolate pot de crême with a burnt sugar topping.

And that, folks, is the only complaint I can come up with so far against La Pastaia.

Well, other than their bringing me the wrong check.

After supper, it’s Joachim Johansson vs. Sam Warburg. Joachim has somehow got a lot handsomer since I last saw him. Still, he’s not a patch on Thomas.

Warburg is a recent Stanford graduate with a vociferous cheering section, and the crowd is tipped heavily in his favor. Part of that is also the underdog factor because even though Johansson is not seeded, he’s certainly a recognized player who got his rating up to number 9 in 2005.

Warburg holds his serve easily. Johansson less so at first. And then in the 4th game, Warburg breaks Johansson at love!

These are the big boys in comparison with what we’ve seen so far. For one thing, easily quantifiable, the serve speeds. Also, Warburg caught Johansson totally flatfooted with gorgeous lobs in both of the first two games.

And then Warburg takes his own next serve also at love. Johansson is disintegrating. The score is 4-2, but in reality, it’s worse than that shows. This is looking like it’s gonna be the third upset in one day… a serious one.

After Warburg takes the first set 6-3, Johansson finally seems to realize that he’s gonna have to break sweat against this kid, so he bears down and finally starts playing in earnest. And it shows. He finally breaks Warburg for the first time.

This is good tennis…big guys hitting the ball hard and running each other all over the court. Warburg breaks right back! Oh, lovely. But Johansson prevails in the second set.

Warburg comes roaring back and suddenly is ahead 4-1 in the third. And then Johansson buckles down and pulls up to 3-4. And then Warburg runs away with it. 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Matches like this are why I come to this tournament.

Three upsets in one day, this last one quite a major upset. Warburg is too new for there to be much data out there on him, but he sure did look good: Johansson didn’t lose because he was playing badly.

And oh, and to lighten the tone, a final observation is that Warburg needs to adjust himself almost every point. Oh, he’s quick and businesslike about it, but he’s definitely rearranging things….or at least checking to make sure the boys are still there. Everybody home, guys?

OK, back to the game. Unfortunately, I’m too tired to stay for Murray vs. Fish. Damn me, because that’s potentially the best match of the day.

And oh, since I just blast straight home at 65-68 MPH up 101, my cumulative mileage is now down to 53 MPG.

I arrive home still half-bloated from that meal. The chocolate pot de crême is just an obscenely large serving, especially for something so toxicly rich.



SAP Open – Tuesday 14 February 2006

Damn me. I again forget my hearing aids. Well, see, in live matches, if you’re sitting up close and have good ears, you can follow the muttering and cursing.

Instead of one of those glorious Dianda confections, this morning I have a twist from Happy Donut. Not sure it’s one whit less calorific, and it isn’t nearly as tasty.
But see, that way I can take I-280, which is vastly easier on the nerves than 101. I-280 really is gorgeous in the spring, and spring is definitely here. Somebody fabulously public-spirited person has planted daffodils in several places along the margin along about Los Altos, and they are just stunning. O, wíll my éncag’d heart burst free? Well, at any rate, it throws itself against the bars.

280 daffodils

I come drifting in late today just as Simon Aspelin and Todd Perry are polishing off the absolutely ancient Jensen brothers, who can barely totter around the court but who are clearly having a blast at this. They were here last year but had to retire. This year they make it through the match but lose 2-6, 1-6. I missed the first doubles match entirely, but luckily I’d never heard of any of the players.

The first singles match is Brian Wilson, a qualifier, against Ivo Karlovic, the number eight seed whose name I just discovered is pronounced with the accent on the second syllable – at least in San Jose.

The good news is that the chair for this match is Lars Graf. Yes, my favorite chair umpire. He’s back. I didn’t see him yesterday but am guessing that since he would be the senior umpire, he chaired last night’s final match.

My goodness, does that Karlovic ever have a set of cheekbones on him. Yow! And much nicer hair than Wilson. He is also pretty clearly going to rip the lungs out of Wilson if the first game, which he holds at love, is any indication.

Hmmm. Now that Wilson is at my end of the court, he looks much better. Kinda cute, actually. Still, a pitiful runt compared to Karlovic although he’s holding his serve. Actually, this is not going to be quite the rout I expected because Wilson just held his serve at love and is consequently looking cuter and cuter.

Now if we could just do something about that hair.

Damn, Karlovic is tall. When he sits in a court chair, the bottoms of his knees are higher than the armrests. He’s this gorilla who could tear tiny Wilson’s arms and legs off in a hand-to-hand combat; but see, tennis isn’t, and Wilson is a wily little varmint.

Just noticed that Lars is not putting much accent on the second syllable of Karlovic’s name, and somehow I trust him more than the HP Pavilion MC.

In the first set, Wilson gives us a thrill by getting down love-40 at 5-6, but then wins five straight points to force a tiebreak, which he takes handily at 7-1. The second set is similar. No breaks of serve, many good rallies, and a tiebreaker. Wilson takes this one 7-4. Yet another upset.

And that means I get to have lunch. At La Pastaia, of course. Did I mention that all the wait persons I’ve had have been charming and knowledgeable? For lunch I have the coffee iced, which helps me keep from overheating as I gorge. Everything looks good, but I decide to try two appetizers….the calamari and the carpaccio, which Gloria and I split last year and was just fabulous. It still is. It’s laid over a big pile of chopped mushrooms, fried shallots, fontina, and truffle oil. There’s nothing wrong with the calamari, either.

Back in the arena, I catch the last half of Rehnquist vs. Gimbelstob, who takes it 6-1, 6-4.

And then it’s Robin Soderling vs. Andre Pavel. Don’t know either and don’t get all that excited over the match.

I do get excited over my supper break because I’ve decided that since La Pastaia has been booked solid for weeks for Valentine’s Evening, I’ll just sneak over into A.P. Stamps and have a nourishing supper of crême brulée and coffee. Stamps used to be a really fine restaurant. Gloria and I had a memorable meal in there during the 2003 SAP Open. But then the owner decided he could make more money as a chop house and ripped all the exciting stuff out of the menu….well, all except for the best crême brulée in the world.

It’s only about a half inch deep, but it’s about 5 inches in diameter, so the brulée is maximized. Better yet, they burn it to order and race it to your table while the top is still hot and the bottom is still cold. Superb.

Then I go next door to this Brit place where they have stuff on the menu like steak and kidney pie and bangers and mash, but I decide to balance out the crême brulée with some Buffalo Wings. How can you ruin Buffalo Wings? Well, they tried their best.

Back here in plenty of time to catch the adulation when Roddick comes into the arena even though the crowd is pretty light tonight, which may have something to do with lingering resentment against the HP Pavilion management over their sitting for more than six hours on the information that Agassi had pulled out of the tournament so that the morning editions of the newspapers would not have this news and thus they could sell more non-refundable tickets to the match before word crept out through other channels.

(To be fair, after the firestorm of outrage the next day, the pavilion folks made a valiant effort to pin some of the blame for this on Agassi’s manager, so there may be tattered shreds of truth in them after all.)

Anyhow, the play tonight is, well, dispirited. Roddick is playing tentatively against Garcia-Lopez and does just enough to win. Some real dull tennis.

Then Blake and Wang Yeu-Tzuoo come out. Both are straight off wins on their respective Davis cup teams although Wang had to fly here immediately after his match rather than having a couple of days to rest.

It doesn’t show. He humiliates Blake 6-2 in the first set. I can’t bear to watch any more and leave since I’m faced with an hour’s drive home and am totally exhausted. (Blake, incidentally, does put up a better fight in the second set but nevertheless is eliminated.)

And oh, I’ve been totally leadfooting it, so my mileage has slipped to 51.



SAP Open – Wednesday 15 February 2006

Since I didn’t get in until midnight last night I slept in under a pile of feathers against the savage sneak return of Winter yesterday afternoon. Got up this morning when I sensed that I barely had time to get out of the shower and get dressed before the arrival of my housekeeper, and boy, was it ever cold. I actually had to turn on the heat. Well, I don’t want her to think I’m cheap or something.

Besides, I Rayteked the garden and it’s forty bone-chilling two degrees down there. Google it yourself. Raytek, I mean.

Anyhow, I do a little essential emailing at home and home and drive back down on 280 so I can stop at In-n-Out Burger on the way and have one of their delicious hamburgers with a chocolate shake for lunch instead of sending five times that much at La Pastaia. I mean, it’s coming to my attention that I am just hemorrhaging cash this week….on top of the expense of the tickets.

Besides, I want to eat lunch earlier so I can have a nice dinner at La Pastaia. When I got up this morning, I discovered that the bastards had scheduled Rainer Schüttler and Kristof Vliegen for the first damn match of the day and that it was going to start in twelve minutes. Grrrrrr.

I arrive and discover that Vliegen has just, to get a little experimental with Flemish, uitgesmeten der Herr Schüttler, which was frankly rather a surprise. The good news is that it was so one-sided that I didn’t miss any excitement. This tournament has been just one upset after another although before I call that an upset I have to admit that I checked their records and see that Schüttler in his decline while Vliegen is ascending.

My timing, though is excellent, since I had to miss that match, because Spadea and the cute new Rettenmaier are warming up. Ha. My elation is short-lived, however, as Spadea just does a dance all over Rettenmaier. If there’d have been dirt, Rettenmaier would have been stomped into it. As it is, that Plexpave surface is non-skid and non-stain. Just blot off the blood, sweat, and tears, and it’s ready for the next players. 6-2, 6-0.

Um, ah, God? Matte here. Yeah, I know it’s been decades since i prayed, but see, I have a problem and I need help, and just looking at things objectively, it’s up to You. Now I’m not asking for something for nothing, and I’m certainly willing to make some kind of sacrifice. Traditionally, this would have been my first-born, but as you know, that bug in my installation software got in the way of offspring. But we can work something out…. service with lepers, even, I’m desperate.

You know where I’m going, of course. Unless You have a major upset planned, it’s gonna be Hewitt vs. Roddick in the finals. Now it would be really nice of You to just go ahead and let Roddick win, but that would be asking too much and I know it. What I am asking, actually begging, is could You pleasepleasepleaseplease not let Lleyton humiliate Andy? Amen.

Next, it’s Dimitry Tursunov vs. Jonas Bjorkman. Tursunov won the crowd’s heart here a couple of years ago when, after being taken out in the singles before a crowd that heavily favored his opponent (Blake), he mentioned he was going to be playing doubles that evening and maybe we could come cheer for him.  With a handsome smile.

That wry sense of humor won him a vocal following ever since at the SAP Open. Well, that and his tennis.

Tursunov is the #7 seed this year, and I don’t want to see another upset until tonight, when it’s Hewitt’s first match.

First set goes to Bjorkman, and it’s worse than 6-4 looks. Tursunov’s not looking good. Well, actually Tursunov is looking very good, but he’s not playing well. In the second set, though, he changes into a really fetching white top with red trim and breaks Bjorkman’s first serve and then serves out the set 6-3.

Continuing to wear his lucky shirt in the third set, he gets an early break, tortures us by nearly squandering it at 3-2 but then, after blowing a couple of break points, breaks again for 6-2 and the match. Whew. Did I mention he’s got a much nicer body than Bjorkman? See, that lucky shirt is somehow engineered so that it leaps halfway off him every time he serves.

Arthurs vs. Reynolds. Arthurs is a blond, left-handed, chinless Australian weasel with a big serve. I don’t understand the intensity of my dislike, but I always experience a little burst of Schadenfreude when I read that he’s been eliminated from a tournament. He must have done something that bothered me at some point, but this is one of those times when I have remembered a resentment longer than the offense that engendered it.

I’d never heard of Reynolds, so I am surprised to see that he, too, has a big serve and holds easily. Then Arthurs serves. Wow. Very much a server’s match here, and what’s rather nice for a change after a steady diet of baseline sluggers is to watch players who often serve and volley. Reynolds breaks at 4-4 and serves it out.

Their second set is also fun tennis, as they are quite evenly matched, but then at 5-5 somehow Arthurs ends up with a 7-5 win….and does the same thing in the third set. He’s also a perfect gentleman, and I am considering forgiving him for his forgotten offense. Sometime soon…or at least sometime.

Robredo vs. Philippoussis. It’s clear we are gonna run way late today, so I dash out for a quick supper on the fly before this match. The pancetta pizza and roasted mussels at La Pastaia, which I wolf and race back to catch the beginning of the second set, Robredo to nobody’s surprise having taken the first 6-3. The first thing I notice is that Philippoussis is as ugly as ever but Tommy is wearing an absolutely stunning pair of white shorts.

This is also excellent tennis. Perhaps the best I’ve seen so far in this tournament. Philippoussis takes the second set 7-5 and then in the third tightens down on Robredo, bounding all over the court, going after everything, and aiming hard shots at the corners… and mostly hitting them. He breaks Robredo and it looks like the tide has turned but Robredo breaks right back. 2-2. This is fabulous tennis. Philippoussis breaks and so does Robredo. 4-4. They hold their next serves, both going hard for winners. 5-5. Philippoussis breaks. Can he hold for the match? Yes! Wow.

And then it sinks in. The matches have run so long today that it’s now 9:30 at night. The 7:00 P.M. match between Lleyton Hewitt and Paul Goldstein won’t get started until nearly 10:00. Do I want to sit up this late to watch Lleyton win? Oh please.

I bag it even though this also means blowing off the following match that I’ve really been looking forward to – a doubles match featuring John McEnroe and Jonas Bjorkman vs. Wayne Arthurs and Stephen Huss. This will be the legendary McEnroe’s first match since he quit in 1994, and there is much anticipation, particularly since tomorrow is his 47th birthday.

Too tired, though, so I head back home. Mileage is now down in the upper forties since as my exhaustion mounts I’m routinely speeding as much as I dare.



SAP Open – Thursday 16 February 2006

I’m sitting at home doing critical email while sipping my first cup of coffee. Then realize I should check the SAP Open website and look at today’s schedule. Aieeeeeeeeeeeee. They’ve done it again. They’ve scheduled players I really want to see for the early matches. Well, one player in the second match, anyhow, although it was great fun watching the newbie Wilson take out Ivo Karlovic and I wouldn’t mind watching Wilson against Phau. The one I really want to see, though, is Kristof Vliegen. I picked up on him last year when he was here, and this year he played Rainer Schüttler in the first match on Wednesday and just nailed him to the court. Missed that. Today I realize that if I jump in the shower Right Now and race like mad I can probably make it in time to see the second set.

But of course I need gas. And figure since it’s not one inch out of the way I could just stop in Dianda for a few seconds and grab some tasty pastry. Yeah. So of course the first parking place is in the middle of the next block and then I go trotting into Dianda and somehow arrive just as six crises are simultaneously erupting. Before I finally get helped, three totally laid-back chicanos have individually arrived after me and, pressed beyond even their tolerance, have started to wonder aloud about how long you have to wait to get a dulce in here.

Just before the four of us have used up all the oxygen, I get my sweets and dash out… an almond ring in addition to my raspberry ring because, hey, I need to replace the energy I expended pacing back and forth in front of the counter.

As I leap out of the car at the gas station, the pay-at-the-pump credit card machine remotely scans me and knows immediately, here’s my boy. Implement protocol seven…with prejudice.

I swipe the card, and the display lights up PLEASE WAIT.

Oh, of course, kind machine, I’ll wait; and I’ll just do a little dance in front of you while I’m waiting. To elevate my impatience, the display changes to PROCESSING for a minute or so and then instructs me ENTER ZIP CODE.

How could it know that the only credit card I have with me that numbers itself in the privileged group accepted by this gas station is one that is paid automatically by the folks who manage my affairs….in San Antonio? And no, no, no, the zip code is not on the card.

Ah, my bank debit card. That’ll work. Well, that’ll normally work. But not now. No, indeed. Somehow, something about it is wrong this morning. Oh, did I mention that owing to the profligate life style I’m living this week, I’m a little low on cash? Like pretty much wiped out? So I have to use a card for gas.

I run toward the office window so I can plead with a human. She sees me coming across the tarmac and retreats to the safety of the back room. I jump up and down in front of the window, resisting my impulse to pound on it, until she reappears and works her way cautiously to a point within earshot.

She listens to my tale and accepts my credit card for hand processing, kindly stuffing back through the slot a paper napkin for my tears. Back out to the pump where, after four tries howling and cursing I get the thing to start pumping. The guy on the other side observes, mine sure is pumping slow, how’s yours?

Oh, about a quart a minute.

Then, as I am deciding that I’ve got enough gas to make it to San Jose, he wants to talk about the Prius. Argghhhhhhhhhhh. Normally, if somebody wants to know about the Prius, I’ll give him as much information as he can bear…and then some, to make sure. Now, of course, is nowhere near normal; and my hysterical giggling over the situation unnerves him, so he gracefully accepts my explanation that at this moment I am running very, very late and really must leave.

I get to San Jose in record low time (50 minutes) and low gas mileage (46 point something) in time to catch the end of the first set. It’s 5-5, and both hold easily. Tiebreak. Gimblestob doubles on his first serve. Vliegen holds both of his on Gimblestob’s unforced errors. Is Gimblestob toast, or what? Toast! He gets only one point in the tiebreak.

But then, despite his having much better hair – a buzz cut verging into a vestigial, highlighted flattop – Vliegen blows his first serve in the second set. And dammit all, for the fourth day I’ve forgot my hearing aids and can’t quite hear his Flemish curses. The players stay on serve for the rest of the set, so it’s Gimblestob 6-4.

Third set. Vliegen breaks at 1-2 for 1-3. Can he just serve it out now? He holds his next serve at love and then breaks again on a spectacular running forehand passing shot. He’s so jazzed now he can’t miss and holds for 6-1, set and match. Great fun to watch.

Next, it’s Soderling vs. Philippoussis, two guys I’ve seen play on television (and Philippoussis live, in previous years here) but am not particularly interested in either. Unfortunately, this is absolutely the wrong time for a break, so I watch arguably the least entertaining match of the tournament in its entirety as Soderling tramples Philippoussis 6-2, 6-3.

Now, Tursunov vs. Arthurs. I look forward to seeing Tursunov flay this weasel under Lars Graf’s glare. The first few games are very evenly matched, with lots of deuces. Then, at 2-2, Tursunov breaks with a crosscourt winner off a second serve from Arthurs, but then gives it right back in the next game.

I’d ask why this happens so often except that I remember my own experience as an extremely neurotic little player guaranteed to lose the next five games if I hit a spectacular shot. Tursunov just implodes and Arthurs takes the first set 6-3.

The second set looks like it’s going to be the same thing. Tursunov gets up a break easily and then loses it back immediately. He squanders break points by the dozen. If I weren’t so damn shy I’d be screaming abuse at him…in a loving way, of course, to encourage him. But somehow, even without my tough love, Tursunov hangs on and takes the second set in a tiebreak.

In the third set, it’s very, very even, and they’re on serve. At the 3-4 changeover, Tursunov changes into his lucky shirt, that really nifty white with red ergonomic trim number that jumps halfway off him with every serve. Yum.

Alas, it doesn’t work today, and he’s broken. Arthurs holds for set and match.

Awwwwwwwwwwww. Oh, please come back next year, Dimitry.

Warburg vs. Hewitt. Warburg is wearing particularly nice white shorts although I notice they have not cured his jock itch. He’s also wearing a white shirt engineered like Tursunov’s to jump up when he serves. And it works!!!!!  He breaks Hewitt’s first serve.

Hmmmm. Maybe it’s not jock itch. Maybe he’s wearing a concealed good luck charm that he has to rub between points. Alas, it fails and Hewitt gets his break back.

There are lots of highly vocal Stanford students here again to cheer Warburg. Pity it’s tennis and we’re so civilized, or there could be some really imaginative heckling. Then again, Hewitt has just indulged in his first “Come On!” and I’m hoping the crowd will view this as license.

Grrrrr, Warburg chokes at 5-6 and is broken for the set. The matches are running late today, and I see that I have a choice now between watching Hewitt win the second set and match, or getting some supper. And since to watch Lleyton win more than one set is more than my sensitive soul can bear, the choice is easy.

La Pastaia, of course, and tonight I wolf the roasted mussels and the lamb shank. For the first time, the food is merely good. Nothing wrong with any of it, but nothing terribly exciting, either.

Here’s a late afternoon view across Santa Clara Avenue from La Pastaia:

Santa Clara


Tonight’s bill is Roddick vs. Carlsen, a lefty Dane who has been at this tournament for five years in a row, but the crowd is even lighter than last night. Roddick seems to have lost some of his star drawing power, as attendance is clearly lower this year than last.

Last year (or maybe the year before) Agassi would pin Carlsen into the back right corner of the deuce court with a pitiless, relentless barrage to his backhand and then, finally, plop one hopelessly out of reach of Carlsen’s forehand way over in the ad court.

Roddick’s not doing that. Roddick’s not doing anything special. Just holding his serve…as Carlsen does until Roddick finally starts bearing down and Carlsen doubles in the fifth game at Ad out for the first break.

And then in the next game Carlsen is fighting very well and we get one of those spectacular long rallies where they’re both running all over their courts and Roddick finally takes it with a drop shot and gives a little self-congratulatory hop of joy as the crowd shrieks. And then back to a rather drab game until the end of the first set, Roddick 6-3.

But Carlsen is not giving up, and he’s not afraid to whack it when Roddick feeds his forehand, so the second set is on serve for the first two games and then suddenly Something Happens and Roddick disintegrates. Carlsen takes the second set 6-1.

In the third set, Roddick breaks in the second game and gives us a minor scare but ultimately holds his next serve. And after that there are a few good rallies but little sense of excitement. Roddick plays, dare I say it, without conviction. And why won’t he attack Carlsen’s backhand?

Frankly, this is pretty unexciting tennis and it’s late and I am very tired when Roddick takes what has turned into a dull match. I’d love to stay to see the new Brit phenomenon Andy Murray vs. Wang Yeu-Tzuoo, but I’m facing that drive home.



SAP Open – Friday 17 February 2006

Today, wonder of wonders, I check the schedule early enough and see that if I shower immediately I can make it down in time to catch the first match – Vliegen vs. Spadea. I should mention that it’s hard work watching tennis at this level, and this morning in the shower I notice that I have a sports injury.

Yow! There’s a stinging sensation when the hot water hits the backs of my thighs, and I realize that all this squirming and thrashing around in my seat during exciting moments has caused some abrasion. I don’t seek medical attention since I expect this problem to resolve itself when the tournament is over.

No stopping for gas, no pastry, no nothing but a blast down 280 with one eye in my rear view mirror. In my youth (which lasted until I was sixty) I was supremely indifferent to the effect of speeding on gas mileage, focusing rather on the cost of tickets and increased insurance premiums. Now I notice with annoyance that these recent speeds are holding me down to the 45 MPG range.

I arrive during the first game, only to discover that my entire section has been given this morning for the first two hours to schoolkids and that I must find a seat elsewhere. Luckily, before I can start articulating my profound resentment of this injustice, another rich, entitled swine starts ranting about how awful it is that his expensive premium seat has been given to school children who he can tell at a glance are not even going to be tennis players.

He really did say that. And yes, a good many of them did look like their parents might not be affluent.

Did I mention that, this being the morning session, there are thousands of vacant seats of equal quality available? So I try to lighten it up by observing that of course the other gentleman and I understand that the attendants are merely implementing the policy set by management, and although this doesn’t relieve any of his annoyance, it does get the attendants off the hook since he redirects his annoyance at me.

Unfortunately, any good karma I might have accumulated there does not transfer to Vliegen, and Spadea digs him into the dirt during the first set. 6-1. Vliegen bounces back, though, and breaks in the fifth game…and then again to take the second set 6-2.

Oh, Lars Graf is in the chair, and I’m trying to take this as a good omen. Alas, Vliegen blows it and loses his serve in the first game of the third set. After that, they stay on serve until Vliegen drives a forehand long to lose his serve, the set, and the match, 6-3. I finally remembered to wear my hearing aids, but alas, Vliegen keeps the volume low enough that I can’t understand his muttered curses.

I work up an appetite watching Vliegen vs. Spadea, so I figure I’ll just go have lunch at La Pastaia during Hewitt vs. Arthurs and then wolf a hot dog here in the Pavilion at some point this evening. So I bound up to the front of the concourse and see that it’s raining….and remember that I forgot to replace my car umbrella after it was destroyed during our last storm. I go out to the car to check (yes, we have no umbrellas) and get moderately wet just going the twenty meters and back.

Food in the HP Pavilion is not all that bad compared to that in, say, public schools and prisons, but it is ridiculously expensive for what it is. $3.50 for a bottle of water!!!!! The hot dog isn’t bad, really, except that it costs $4.50. Good grief.

Maybe I can find some joy watching Hewitt and Arthurs even though both of them can’t lose. To nobody’s surprise, Hewitt wins although Arthurs does take him to a tiebreak in the first set. Afterwards, I notice that Hewitt is now hiding his true light behind a facade of pleasantness and is clearly working very hard to be likeable in his post-victory courtside interview. Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, the swine.

I’ve read that Hewitt’s been getting beaten up badly in the Australian press, so that may have something to do with his newfound niceness. Not that I’m deceived….oh no.

Soderling vs. Murray. Today’s my first time to see Andy Murray, the 18-year-old Scot sensation who the Brits are already talking about as their great hope to win Wimbledon for the first time since the thirties, they having given up on Henman. He’s not real cute, but then neither is Soderling.

Worse yet, he’s not very effective, losing his first serve. He nearly recovers the break a couple of times, but Soderling hangs on and takes the first set 6-4. In the second set, they stay on serve until the last game, when Murray breaks and wins 7-5. He breaks early in the third set and keeps the break for a 6-4 set and the match.

Murray’s fun. In the last set to break the tension he does this really nifty little foot juggling thing with the ball, sort of hacky-sack but with a tennis ball, and then bends from the waist and catches the ball on the back of his neck.

This would have been even more fun had he done it during his own serve.

Time for supper, and luckily the rain has stopped. I go walking over to La Pastaia and get this shot of the rain-swollen Guadalupe River surging at its banks:

Guadalupe River

As I’m about to enter La Pastaia, I get into conversation with this couple from Marin who had tickets only for the days’ matches but want to have dinner locally before driving back. I rave about La Pastaia. They look at the menu, follow me in, and ask me to join them. They’re quite enjoyable to talk with over dinner of pasta dishes – chicken for me, clams for her, and salmon for him. It is as good as usual, and she and I break down and share that enormous Chocolate Crême Brulée for dessert. Plenty for two.


After dinner, it’s Roddick vs. Phau. Chair – Lars Graf. Roddick is finally seeming to bear down, and Phau is no match for him. It’s 6-2, 6-3 in a match low on excitement.

This is followed by John McEnroe and Bjorkman in doubles. The crowd loves McEnroe and is passionately partisan, but it will not tolerate McEnroe’s traditional tantrums, and the first time he even starts one, the booing is immediate and full throated. McEnroe and Bjorkman take the match, to wild cheering, so yes, we’re a forgiving crowd.

And so, back home to bed.

And, now, having run this one further than it ever should have gone, I’ll close it. Well, a few results: On Saturday, Andy Murray beats Roddick in the semis, but Gloria and I smother our sorrows at La Pastaia. On Sunday, Nancy joins me watching Murray beat Hewitt in the singles finals and McEnroe and Bjorkman win the doubles finals.

Actually, one last thing. I’ve mentioned Marat Safin a number of time simply because I find him so fascinating…and so frustrating because I’m convinced that he could have become the finest men’s player of all time had he been able to work through his emotional issues and stop beating himself. This is so obvious that countless tennis fans came to the same conclusion, but a man named John Jeremiah Sullivan fully analyzed Safin in an article in the 30 May 2005 Gentlemen’s Quarterly titled “The Agony (and Fleeting Ecstasy) of Marat Safin.” Google on that title for reproductions of this fine article if that link fails.

And now, let’s leap ahead a year to 2007. This will be the last of the tennis tales because when I got to the tournament on the first morning of play in February of 2008, they informed me that fans were no longer allowed to write about the tournament on laptops. They were nice enough to give me a refund for the remaining days.



The Open Is Closed – 17 February 2007

The 2007 SAP Open is over and I have dragged myself home.

Totally, absolutely exhausted. Missed lots of matches owing to being too tired to stay for them. Still, I enjoyed enough exciting tennis that the backs of my thighs and my butt are abraded from all the squirming around in my seat during tough points.

The real problem, though, is that the venue for the Open, the HP Pavilion, is located only a six minute brisk walk from La Pastaia, about whose food I have already raved in previous dispatches.

Well, the situation has worsened. On Friday I got there 35 minutes early to meet one of my Susans for lunch, and there was this guy my age playing maître d’ I hadn’t seen before. Hardly any customers were coming in that early, so we got into a conversation that ranged from my favorites on their menu to fine eating in San Francisco over the past 30 years, about which we were in near complete agreement and found ourselves dredging our memories and supplying names that the other was grasping for. It was wonderful to meet a man in San Jose who had apparently eaten in every fine restaurant in San Francisco that was in its heyday twenty to thirty years ago.

And then as Susan arrived and we were being seated I discovered that he was a co-owner. And oh, that conversation with John (we’re on a first name basis now) had its effects. I mean, the food has always been delicious and the service very good, but somehow I sense that now, extra attention to detail is being paid. We had a couple of dishes John had recommended: the eggplant and the ravioli off the tasting menu as well as a green salad, which were excellent, and the pasta with pancetta and cream, which was merely very, very good.

There was only a brief opportunity for a Friday night meaI, so I raced over to this little cajun dump called The Poor House and had their fine and very generous shredded pork sandwich.

Here’s some signage between the Pavilion and the Poor House that is all the scarier for its being so non-specific:


non-specific signage

On Saturday I walked over to La Pastaia between the semifinals, unfortunately rather hungry owing to not having had lunch. So I went ahead and had one of the full entrée dishes, the braised beef short ribs on polenta. Superb. And generous, but I was still hungry, so I ordered the legendary carpaccio “for dessert”….and then in a moment I shall long regret asked for the dessert menu.

The astonishing chocolate crème brûlée I knew to be simply too large and rich, but then my eye alit on a hazelnut torte that I’d not tried. It was divine. Layers of crunchy, nutty meringue alternated with a chocolate cream. Layers and layers floating in a shallow lake of mocha sauce. How could I have passed this by for three years?

It may have been the most delicious dessert I’ve ever eaten. Well, at least since 1966, my last visit to the Kaffe Konditorei Stark on Eschesheimer Landstraße in Frankfurt a. M., where I ate at every opportunity their Sarah Bernhardt Torte. The Stark closed decades ago (besides being in Germany) and La Pastaia is fifty miles away. Otherwise……

I got down to San Jose a little early this afternoon for the finals and walked over to La Pastaia, thinking I could just have a final slice or two of the torte with coffee before the matches. Alas, they’d stopped serving.

And after the exhaustion from watching three long, hard-fought singles sets (Murray vs. Karlovic 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 with many deuces), I was too tired to wait through all the halftime inanities before the doubles finals, so I split.

Safe at home, I went ahead and ate up all the rest of that long leftover bean and sausage combo since it passed the sniff test. And hey, relax, Becky, I gave it an extra whirl in the microwave to do in those odorless pathogens.

So here I sit, stuffed and ready for bed after a week of sitting on my ass watching tennis when I wasn’t gorging at good restaurants…and in emergencies eating that dreadful dreck in the HP Pavilion.

I hadn’t been to the gym for a couple of weeks before the Open because of illness and/or one of my little sloughs of despond, but tomorrow morning first thing I’ll drift down there and beach myself.

And if I had a single coffeespoon less of integrity, I would neglect to mention that the beaching metaphor came from one of my Davids.



Farewell, SAP Open – 15 February 2013

OK, i went back. The SAP Open is the second tennis oldest in this country and was first played in 1889 in Monterey. But alas, folks in the Bay Area don’t really support tennis very well, and the tournament’s ability to attract top players gradually declined along with the number of spectators. Since it was my last chance, i worked up the energy to attend the Friday day session of two quarterfinal matches.

The first was Tommy Haas vs. qualifier Steve Johnson, who put up a decent struggle at first but who was in way over his head. Haas has been a longtime favorite of mine, and he’s endeared himself to many fans by fighting his way back from multiple surgeries and broken bones. But he broke nothing this time and thus easily dispatched Johnson, so it was not very exciting tennis.

The second match was John Isner vs. Xavier Malisse. Here the players were more evenly matched, with the first set going to a tiebreaker with Isner finally winning 6-7 (10). And then Isner ran away with the second set, 6-2. And here, again, the tennis wasn’t all that exciting because while Malisse’s serve couldn’t match the speed of Isner’s, he was real tricky with it. So the match consisted mostly of the two players whacking aces past each other.

Oh well, at least i got to see a session of the finale of the SAP Open. A sad occasion, and sadder because the arena was just plain deserted. No wonder the tournament died.

The main thing i noticed at this tournament, though, was that the players were all wearing real socks, unlike the folks at my San Francisco gym with there little sockettes that don’t even cover the ankle.

And speaking of coverage, this is it for the SAP Open.  It was fun.

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