THE LIPTON TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS|
Alese & Morton Pechter
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GETTING THERE:So you are coming to Palm Beach to enjoy the weather, relax and play some golf and tennis....but once here, there are a few special attractions that you should put on your "must see" list. The Lipton Tennis Championships held in March on Key Biscayne could head that list. Just an easy drive south on I-95 and you are there. The drive to the area is just beautiful. Once on Key Biscayne you drive down a wide road with beautiful landscaping in the center divider and the waters of Biscayne Bay surrounding you. For The Lipton there is ample, ample parking. This is a delight as there are many other venues where the biggest hassle is finding a parking space!
TENNIS ANYONE?:You like to watch good tennis? ... How much tennis? Would you believe over 50 matches at The Lipton throughout the day the first few days? It was terrific. We ran from court to court trying to catch everything ... which, of course, was impossible ... but we did try. There are ten courts plus the Stadium and Grandstand ... and, oh, we forgot to mention all the practice courts were going full steam. Combining the ATP & WTA, menís and womenís tournaments, the best tennis players in the world come to Key Biscayne to compete. We even got to see Venus and Serena Williams practicing together before their respective matches. When they walked off, the crowds gathered to get some autographs.
One of the shops on the grounds was selling a huge, oversized tennis ball ... which turned out to be the favorite of the kids to collect autographs. Of course they had to carry these around with them all day, and they are not the easiest things to carry. Smart parents found large plastic bags with a handle to make that a little easier for them ... the parents, that is ... It seems to be the parents who end up carrying the balls. Why should a tennis match be different from other family adventures?
EDIBLES:Not only is the tennis at The Lipton absolutely top-of-the-line but now we can say the food in the food court was extremely upscale. There was a huge assortment of gourmet foods to fit all tastes .. and from what we could see, the costs were very reasonable .. and did not reflect the inflated pricing we sometimes see at tournament food concessions. There were ample vendors so there were no long lines to contend with.
Bill Archer owner of The Big Cheese on SW 67th Ave in Miami had some superb choices...Baked ziti parmesan with tomato sauce; Pasta Al Fresco with buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, tri-color pasta with garlic rolls; Grilled chicken Caesar; personal pizzas .. cheese, pepperoni, or vegetable; subs.. Italian .. sweet baked Ham, Genoa salami, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, tomato, onion, and Italian house dressing; Turkey sub .. smoked turkey breast, mozzarella cheese, lettuce and tomato.
Jeff Carballo of "K Rico" has two places in Miami .. on SW 40th Street and SW 80th Ave .. His foods were fast foods Latin style with special sauces and dips that could bite, sting or soothe .. whatever you desired. He had a great Pork sub; Chicken sandwich; Beef sandwich with the beef cut Latin style .. very thin slices; as well as delicious banana chips.
The "Biga Bakery" was serving up the food found at the Lipton Tea House in the food court. Sandra Ayala, the purchasing agent for the stores told us they now have 6 locations from Key Biscayne to Miami to Boca Raton and Palm Beach. We got a chance to sample their chicken salad; morning glory muffin; low-fat chocolate cookie with walnuts; giant chocolate chunk cookie and some of Madeleine's crisps .. flavored and seasoned bread crisps.
What can we tell you ... we ate well ... too well!!!
Once again, we see the hand of Butch Buchholz .. making The Lipton the place that will have something for everyone ... whether it be great tennis, player lounges and lockers, food for the ticket buying visitors, games along the midway for the kids .. comfortable seating with good viewing from all locations, hosts and hostesses who are fluent in several languages and wide open areas with lovely umbrella covered tables, green grass and shade trees to sit, relax and enjoy some of this Florida weather and .... delicious food!!
LIPTON ACTIVITIES:Would you believe 16,807!!! ... that's how many piled through the gates at the Lipton one day. It was the biggest crowd they have ever had. All the stadium seats were sold out days before but with 52 matches going on there was plenty for everyone to watch on the surrounding courts.
All the top players were not in the Stadium. Anyone with a general admission could get to watch Jana Novotna, Anke Huber, Monica Seles, Petr Korda, Andre Agassi, Conchita Martinez, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, among many others ... as well as exciting doubles teams including Venus and Serena Williams.
We all expect to have great tennis there but there was so much more happening each day. Tom Gullikson, Capt. of the US Davis Cup Team, chose to announce the members of his team who would play Russia in the upcoming matches. There was a ceremony honoring the "Handsome eight" as the men have become known ... the group that began the professional tennis tour years ago.
Take a stroll around the grounds and you could see the Prudential Securities Photo Gallery with spectacular photographic memories, including a photo of the "Handsome Eight" from World Championship Tennis (WCT) days. You could even purchase some of these autographed photos .. with the proceeds being donated to the Greater Miami Tennis Foundation.
...And one of the fun sights was the Lipton Sand Sculpture booth. With lots of white beach just across the road .. The Lipton decided to bring the sand even closer. A beautiful ongoing art project progressed daily. As we watched it go up, there were lots of reminders that it IS Lipton .. ice-tea cans; signs; bottles, etc. .. all hand sculpted. The decorative wall structures amazed us and it was fascinating to watch the men work. We saw the piles of sand when we first arrived and could not believe what they created.
While strolling you can also try the Fast Serve .. a regular activity event at many tennis tournaments today. A net is set up and, for a fee that is donated to a local charity ... you get a couple of chances to serve a tennis ball. The speed of the serve is picked up by a radar gun and the fastest serves of the day are listed.
Along the same lines, at The Lipton, we found a golf booth where you could slam that little golf ball as hard as you could ... into a net! The radar records this also and you get a distance score. The top distance scores are posted for all to see. We loved the name for this one ... Lipton Tea-Time! Considering this is a tennis venue ... the golf booth was extremely busy.
Nike sponsored a play area for the kids. Tennis Event Coordinators for Nike, Molly Luby and Jim Markim put together some activities where the kids could let themselves go and have their own fun. Michael Brown, Nike Play Project Manager, showed us around. They were given a large area on the grounds to set up basketball, soccer, baseball and tennis activities. All netted and set up so that everyone is protected ... from flying bats, balls, racquets, etc. ... the children had a chance to hit a target in baseball; kick a soccer ball through holes set up in a distant wall (little kids only have to hit the wall); take foul shots in basketball, or lay ups with another player; and hit a tennis ball across the net of a regular court. We watched and the kids were even given some helpful hints with their tennis swings. When they complete one area .. i.e. the soccer ball hits the wall ... they had a card stamped. When they completed everything and the card was stamped from each activity ... they could claim a prize ... a Nike water bottle; ID tag.. etc. It was a great place and the kids loved it. They got to run, scream, jump and have some good, wholesome entertainment. .. and all free of any charges.
Of course, they were promoting the Nike Tennis Camps for 1998 and brochures were available for the parents ... if they wanted them ... when they brought their kids.
TENNIS DOES TAKE PLACE:Of course, we were all there mainly for the tennis matches .. and great matches they were.
Mirjana Lucic, one of the new young competitors, won her early match easily. In the interview room she handled herself with poise and confidence that many adults never acquire. Kafelnikov demonstrated that ... "it's not over till its over" ... when he came back from 4 match points against him to take the set and win the match against Slava Dosedel. Martina Hingis breezed through her win over Chanda Rubin.
The contest between Irina Spirlea and Serena Williams fizzled into an easy win for Serena. Both girls played an exciting first set, with some of the points absolutely breathtaking. They went into a tie-breaker and Serena took that 7-4. The second set was over before it began. Have no idea what happened to Irina but Serena took the second set 6-0. In the interview Serena said her goal for the tournament was not to make any foot faults .. and in her first two matches, she had accomplished that.
Serena is a delightful young lady with her feet on the ground. Her big concern now seems to be school. She attends a school in Palm Beach County and hopes to complete her high school work this summer. Her nemesis is Algebra II but she loves biology and physics and reading good books. Will she go farther? You bet .. college is definitely in her plans.
Sister Venus also played that night. Her opponent was Tatiana Panova from Russia. Venus took the first set easily but was down several games in the second before coming back to win the match. Tatiana is a strong player. It was interesting to watch her as she waited for Venus' serve. Before almost every serve, she would hold up her hand up to let Venus know she was not quite ready yet. Venus can serve quickly and this tended to slow her down a bit. Also Tatiana waited for the serve inside the line and would run backwards each time to be able to return the ball. She is very agile and handled this easily but we wondered why she did not wait back farther .. at least for the first service.
The big upset was Rafter losing to Vince Spadea...6-3, 7-5. Spadea was happy. "Huge win. Very big", he told the media in the aftermatch interview. He was one excited young man. We have watched Spadea since he played the Sunshine Cup many years ago. This was a big win for him and he was pleased with his great performance. It was his first win over a top 5 player. He never played it safe against Rafter .. ripping service returns one after another.
The day and night were filled with outstanding tennis and the crowds were there. All the courts had comfortably filled stands for every match and we saw people still arriving after 9pm to catch the last few matches. The food court was busy, the weather was magnificent .. ... and the shaded, grassy areas were a mecca for those looking for a place to relax.
We were looking forward to the match between Anna Kournikova and Mirjana Lucic, but it turned out to be an easy win for Anna. Mirjana just did not have the experience yet ... but she is a fine player and a delightful young lady ... and she will be in there with the best of them when she is able to get more court play.
The interview with Monica Seles was sad. She tried so hard to be strong and composed but it was obvious how much she is hurting inside with her father so ill. "It was hard last year and it is going to be very tough this year," she said ... trying to balance her desire to play tennis and her commitment to be with her father.
WOMEN'S FINAL:The big day arrived....the finals of the women's tournament with our new phenoms .. Venus and Anna. We don't know who was more excited .. the girls playing the match or all of us watching . Each had his feelings about the day ... both girls had been playing so well all week. The odds would have gone to Venus but there were many who felt that Anna was on a very strong run and would win this one.
The Miami weather was absolutely magnificent ... the crowds piled into the stadium ....
There was tremendous anticipation and when the girls finally appeared on the court .. the stands went wild cheering them in. We can just imagine what was going on in the minds of these two young teenagers .. and we should remember that they are still teenagers! .. The coin was tossed, the practice began ... and then there was the match.
...... After expecting so much .. the first set went quite easily to Anna Kournikova 6-2 .. with Venus Williams making lots of unforced errors and simply not playing that well. It looked as if both girls were afraid to really play. They were tentative in their serving, their shot making .. almost everything. Even their demeanor was extremely low key and subdued.
Anna is precise and steady with strong, powerful hitting and placement. She has fabulous slice/drop shots that can throw off anyone's pacing. She was using this tactic masterfully against Venus in this first set.
In the match against Hingis .. Venus was a whirlwind .. she was pumped up .. jumping in place between each point .. running and stretching and placing those powerful balls down the line. In the first set Venus was not jumping at all but seemed quite flat-footed. Anna, too, had been pumped for her previous matches. In this final match .. she was not.
Their hitting was strong and there were some well-placed shots but it looked like a good game at a Junior's tournament. In the second set .. Venus finally came back and had a little of her verve .. began jumping and running and making less errors. Anna made more as she seemed to tire. When Venus took the second set, the crowds went wild again .. probably because they would get to see another set of tennis ... and though there were many there rooting for Anna, it sounded as if the majority were for Venus. That would be natural as Venus calls Florida her home.
In the third set, Venus took over and Anna kept making more errors .. perhaps she was just tiring too much. The heat and humidity were taking their toll ... and ... though we are critical of the level of play ... there was a lot of running back and forth, to the net and back .. to get to that ball. Both had to be exhausted and Venus seemed to be having trouble with her leg... though she will never admit to any injury.
Venus did get herself pumped .. played some beautiful shots and was able to wear down Anna in the third set.
Bottom line is that Venus did win .. she is the Champion .. and their was tremendous excitement from everyone. Venus jumped into the stands .. kissed her father and went right by him .. jumping even higher into the seating area .. climbing over several sets of chairs (and possibly people) .. and finally reached her mother, Oracene, and her sister, Lyndrea .. who were sitting up there. The hugs and kisses from both were very special and it was a special moment for everyone who was there. Every mother in the stands was part of that hug.
The awards followed. Both Venus and Anna spoke beautifully .. all the presentations were made and then there was the press conference with both gals. Anna came in smiling and beautiful. She was quite pleased with her showing this week. She had beaten Lucic, Seles, Davenport, Martinez and Vicario .. that was quite a run....and in the final with Venus .. it was Anna's belief that Venus did not beat her .. she had lost.
"I got a little tired," Kournikova said. "But it's good. She didn't beat me; I lost. That means I'm better a little than her."
Though we are sometimes taken aback with a statement of this type .. when clearly, Venus had won the match. Venus, too, agreed with Anna .. that a player loses the match because of his or her own errors.....
Later in the afternoon, Venus met with the photographers on the beach nearby for a fun photo-shoot. The trophy was brought along as a prop. Venus stood, sat, waved her arms, held the trophy and ran splashing through the surf .. with lots and lots of cameras clicking away. She was a warm, smiling, fun-filled teenager .. enjoying the moment.
The official shoot over, Venus posed for personal photos with little ones who happened to be on the beach at the time. All the disposable cameras were brought out by the Moms and Dads to take pictures of their kids with her. Venus tried to be accessible to all .. smiling, posing and signing autographs.
What a nice way to end the afternoon.
MEN'S FINAL:We thought we were going to the finals of a prestigious tennis match, but when we arrived at the stadium .. we thought we were in the wrong place. At the entrance, in addition to the Lipton hats that were being given to all ... you also received a flag of choice .. either for Chile or USA. ... And that was only the beginning. There were already large groups chanting and singing for the TV cameras ... "Chi-le! Chi-le!" and "U-S-A! U-S-A!" The stage was set.
Inside the arena ... oops, stadium court ... the upper stands (at a cost of $45 per seat) .. were filled with flag flying supporters. We thought we were at a European soccer game rather than the finals of The Lipton Championships. It was loud, fun-filled laughter, with groups cheering and rooting for their individual choice to win this match. It was different. It was exciting. It was infectious .. and everyone was enjoying the camaraderie and teasing that accompanied his support of either Marcelo Rios or Andre Agassi.
The Star-Spangled Banner was sung .. the "toreadors" marched into the stadium and the match began. Surprisingly, with such a raucous crowd ... when play began, there was silence and respect for both players. Of course, disputed line calls and the end of each game was greeted by the forceful voices of the crowds, but when the player began his serve .. there was silence again.
That was the fun part of the day. The tennis was good but not great as Agassi was not playing at his peak level. Rios was superb. He deserved every point he got. His serve was outstanding and certainly threw Agassi off balance. We had all hoped for a five set match but this one was all Rios and he did it in three sets. He is No.1 in the world now.
We had hoped for a great big smile after a win like this one .. and gaining his new ranking as the best in the world but all Rios could muster was a little grin. He did show some excitement though by tossing his racquet high into the stands when the match was over. That is the most emotion we have ever seen from Rios.
His reaction a little later .... "Being the best player in the world for Chile is something, like, not normal," Rios said. "I feel proud."
There was no feeling of bragging with this young man .. he knows he is now #1 but stated..."Maybe at this moment I'm playing better than anyone," he said. "But I don't feel like I'm really good. Everyone has a chance to beat me."
And that from ... mister bad boy on the tour! We came away with a completely different feeling about Marcelo Rios. He is not the sweet, warm, media seeking, autograph signing person some would like him to be. He is a great tennis player. He is dedicated about what he is doing on the court .. and he appears to be a serious young man. He does not exude emotion outwardly.
When we asked him to smile for a photo .. all he could give was a small grin. He had to be asked if he was happy. With such a big win we would have expected him to be elated. He was entitled to be....but we had to ask to get some idea of his feelings ... of course, he said he was happy ... but it just did not show. What a shame that something inside him would not let him just shout for the sheer joy of the moment.
When Venus won yesterday she beamed, she danced, she showed the pleasure she was feeling.
WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR:The Lipton is now over .. and what a Lipton it was .. it will show..
The biggest crowds; the most signs printed; the most autograph markers sold on site; the most Caesar Salads served; the most sand imported; the most tennis balls used; and on and on and on .. including the most pounds of food donated by the Lipton Company for Feed the Children Food drop at the matches.
But most of all ... it was great fun for all the fans who attended. So much tennis .. so much great tennis .. so many of the super-star men and women tennis players ... so many of the young, upcoming stars of tomorrow. Tennis is the main attraction but add to that the beautiful Florida weather; the other activities available within the park grounds; the excellent choices for food and drink; the chance to relax and socialize before and after watching a match and on top of that the beach and ocean close by.
If you can get to The Lipton, we know you will love it ...
Tickets packages are usually available in September on a first-come, first serve basis. For further information you can always call The Lipton office at: 305-442-3367
See you there next year.
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