By Craig Hickman
Tours, draw ceremonies, and qualifying matches filled up most of the day at the 2011 Sony Ericsson Open.
At 10:00 am, I toured the 34-acre site guided by tournament director Adam Barrett and Media and Public Relations Director Sam Henderson. Tracking down minor facilities issues (“Why is the Head Tent Closed?”) while walking a small group of media around the exquisitely designed and built set of facilities, it was clear that the Sony Ericsson Open has its eye on a bigger future. Adding another television court, hardwiring expanded workrooms for faster connectivity, and including a high-end VIP restaurant which will feature four celebrity chefs over the next week, the event will remain the premiere event outside of the Grand Slams.
At approximately 11:45, the women’s draw was unveiled. Samantha Stosur chose the chips with the 32 seeded players whose names were taped on a giant draw board threatening to blow off the easel. “Right now, it’s all just a bunch of names,” she said of her place in the 128-line draw. The No. 4 seed and Roland Garros finalist will face the winner of Zheng Jie and Xperia Hot Shot Sorana Cirstea in the second round.
The men’s draw followed with Jurgen Melzer doing the choosing. “The first thing I look at is where is Juan MartÃn del Potro in the draw,” said the No. 10 seed. “He’s in Robin Soderling‘s section so that’s going to be a nice little section. I think everybody says you play one match at a time, but we’re human so sometimes we do look ahead. If you’re confident you don’t care who you play, but if you’re not, you want to know what’s coming.” What’s coming for Melzer is his doubles partner Philipp Petzschner of Germany or Florent Serra of France.
Next, I jumped around and the grounds and darted in and out of several qualifying matches.
American wildcard and birthday girl Sloane Stephens had to rally from a set down to advance to the second round of qualifying. She beat the No. 4 seed Evgeniya Rodina of Russia 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. For a place in the main draw she’ll face Aussie Sophie Ferguson who upset No. 13 Alberta Brianti of Italy 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
The No. 4 seed in the men’s qualifying draw fared no better. Milwaukee native Tim Smyczek picked about Israel’s Dudi Sela 6-1, 6-4. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said after the match. Had me fooled. Though only 5′ 9″, the 23-year-old hits a big serve, has no weakness on either wing, and plays the net with aplomb. Perhaps his best asset on the court is his positive attitude. He played every point as though it were the last and never let an error cost more than one point. Smyczek will have a tough match against Olivier Rochus of Belgium who beat Flavio Cipola of Italy 6-3, 6-2.
American Ryan Sweeting also advanced in straight sets. Even though he yelled out to his box that his backhand was the worst it’s ever been, you wouldn’t have known it. Not the way he dismantled Juan Sebastian Cabal 7-6(4), 6-2. The Colombian became so frustrated he double faulted twice to lose the match. Sweeting will play Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic for a spot in the main draw.
Coming off the biggest win of his career with an upset of Andy Murray at the BNP Paribas Open, Donald Young was back to the business of qualifying for another major event. Against the wily veteran in Arnaud Clement, Young was out of sorts out the gate, dropping the first 10 points of the match with a listless performance and cantankerous disposition. But the young American who has seemed burdened by big expectations shook off a lopsided first set and turned the match around. “I didn’t play my game in the first set. I started to keep more balls in play and kept fighting,” said Young. He took pace off his shots, forcing Clement to create his own pace, and that change in tactics forced the Frenchman to make more errors. “If I keep playing my game, the way I played in the last two sets, I can get through.” He’ll have to fight past Frank Dancevic of Canada who can produce good tennis on North American hardcourts.
Americans Lauren Davis, Irina Falconi, Jamie Hampton, Christina McHale, Robert Kendrick, Michael Russell also advanced.
Tomorrow, matches from the women’s main draw begin on the Grandstand, Court 1 and Court 2. Find the full schedule here.