Tennis on the outside courts has a charm of its own. It is a much more intimate experience. During the past week at the WTA250 Chennai Open at the SDAT Stadium in Chennai, Courts 1 and 2 never had more than 100-120 spectators during a match. But those who were there could watch the action more closely despite the occasional windy and humid conditions.
“Coaches” and coach
Not only watch, but they could also ‘coach’ the players. After the all-Indian pair of Karman Kaur Thandi and Rutuja Bhosale got bagelled in 16 minutes during the quarterfinal against eventual champion Canadian-Brazilian duo of Gabriela Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani, one gentleman said, “Game ko thoda slow karo Thandi (Slow down the pace of the match a bit, Thandi)” while the lady sitting next to him gave the pep talk in Punjabi - “Agla set chhadna nahin (Show them in the next set).”
The “coaching”, however, one time went a little overboard, leading to a hilarious visual. During Thandi and Bhosale’s first-round match against compatriot Prarthana Thombare and Indonesia’s Jessy Rompies, four guys in the third row from front were behaving in an unruly manner and had three bouncers covering just them.
If you are wondering, there was one incident involving an actual coach too. Pat Cash, 1987 Wimbledon champion, was fuming throughout the second-round match between his ward, sixth-seeded Chinese player Qiang Wang, and Japanese qualifier Nao Hibino. As Wang made one error after the other, Cash punched the chair next to him while constantly cursing in a muffled voice. Later, Hibino said in the post-match press conference, “The towel box was in front of him. When I took the towel, I tried not to show anything on my face and tried not to panic and be affected.”
All emotions at once
If you found the perfect spot, you could watch agony on Wang’s face on Court 1 and at the same time, you could observe the ecstasy on Court 2 as Stefani and Dabrowski, despite playing together for the first time in a year, looked in perfect sync during their first-round match against Britain’s Katie Swan and Greek Despina Papamichail.
Meanwhile, the practice court adjacent to this doubles encounter had 2022 Wimbledon semifinalist Tatjana Maria of Germany practising with her elder daughter Charlotte, 8, while her younger one Cecilia, a toddler, ran around holding a tiny racket.
Tough time for officials
The chair umpires, line umpires and ball boys, though, had a tough time on the outside courts. Ball boys were initially chasing balls that had gone off-court, line umpires were being instructed at times to change their positions, while the chair umpire not only had to overrule line calls, but also ask to replay a couple of points as an overhead smash hit on one court sent the ball bouncing to the other during someone’s service motion or mid-rally.
Bouchard, a crowd favourite
Eugenie Bouchard had a fan following like no other. The 28-year-old Canadian, who recently returned to professional tennis after sitting out for 17 months due to a shoulder injury, played her doubles matches on the outside courts. After her first-round win, Bouchard duly stayed on for autograph and selfie requests. As one fan said, “It’s been fantastic. I started following Bouchard from the time she reached the Wimbledon final in 2014. Watching her live has been a dream for quite a few years.”
It was, therefore, anti-climactic that Bouchard’s run at the tournament ended with her retiring midway through her doubles semifinal due to what may have been recurring pain in the same shoulder. Sadly, it was the final match on the outside courts at the Chennai Open.