When the week-long Sovran Bank/D.C. National Tennis Classic ends with tomorrow's final match, these things will have happened:
One man will have won. A handful of top-ranked pros -- Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors among them -- will have gotten in some pre-U.S. Open practice. Scores of players, ball girls and boys and random observers will have turned pasty white and fainted from the heat. Volvo, Amstel Light Beer, Heinz Lite Ketchup, Sundance Natural Juice Sparkler, Reebok, Ray-Ban, Shearson Lehman Bros. and a slew of other corporate products will have been thrust on the semiconsciousness of thousands of potential consumers. Tennis buffs will have housed, transported, thronged and snuggled up to their idols. And perhaps the woman who called in sick to work because she loves Ivan Lendl will actually have gotten close to her beloved.
And the Classic will have had its best year. In the past, the tournament was on synthetic clay courts and for the most part drew pros who specialized in playing on that surface. This year, the Rock Creek Park Tennis Stadium has 5,500 seats on the main court and a new hard, fast surface -- the same kind used at the Open -- and the tourna- ment has netted big-time players and sold out almost every session.
The Woman Who Loves Lendl It is Wednesday. Amy is AWOL. Amy, who of course cannot allow her last name to appear in the newspaper, should not be here.
"She had to lie to get out of work," says Rick Alfonso, Amy's companion, who has finished work and fears no boss.
"I'm going to come in tomorrow with this sunburn," she laments, and practices her excuse: "I was in bed all day. I swear!"
Earlier, when a player walked by, Amy panicked. "He wanted to give her his autograph," says Rick, "but no! She moved away."
"Too shy," explains Amy.
"The guy who just got whupped by Lendl was walking around, pleading," says Rick.
Amy makes her allegiances clear. "I love Ivan Lendl."
Now it is Thursday. Amy is still here. She is sitting in the shade outside the stadium while Rick watches a match.
"Ricky called me at work. He said, 'I'm going again -- get sick.' I like tennis, but I guess the main reason I'm here is to see the people. I'm just as happy sitting here in the shade watching people." And avoiding a suntan that might alert her colleagues to her health.
Last night, she says, she watched the taped news coverage of a match she attended. "We had to tape it, rewind it and freeze it -- 'That blur! It's me!' "
Then, laughing, she wonders if her boss saw the same news show. Life on the lam is not easy.
The Nurse The on-court temperature hit 117 degrees last weekend. Several players had cramps and trouble breathing after playing in that sweltering weather, and on Thursday heat exhaustion forced Lendl to default a doubles match after a three-set singles victory. But the athletes hardly have the worst of it. Ask Delores Nastick, registered nurse. From Monday to Friday, she saw the bruised, the banged-up and -- over and over again -- the passed-out.
"Mostly with the ball kids, because they don't eat breakfast," says Nastick, a ruddy, jovial woman who doesn't need to worry about whether or not she had breakfast because she is wrapped in the cool of her air-conditioned trailer. "When it's 100 degrees outside, it must be 150 on the court. Some of the others -- I guess you could say guests -- have been in for the same thing. They've been drinking the beer and putting nothing in their stomach. One girl was standing in line at the concession stand and went boom! Luckily, someone caught her ... And the ball kids can't even wear hats out there. I said to the people, don't you ever give them a drink of water out there? They said, 'Oh!' "
She mimics the air of surprise from "the people" and smiles. This is her third year here. Heat prostration holds no secrets for her.
The door opens and a teen-age boy enters, his hand dripping red.
"Hello again," says Nastick.
"I'm just accident-prone," he says. Earlier in the day, he cut his ankle on a taut rope in the parking area, where he is directing traffic. This time, he was trying to open a bottle by hitting it against the curb. It didn't work quite the way he expected.
"Sweetie, you're going to have to go to the ER and get stitches," Nastick says as she cleans him up.
"I won't lose my finger, will I?" he asks, attempting to calm his shrill voice.
No, she assures him.
He moves on to more practical concerns. "Will the blood come out of my clothes?"
Yes, Nastick says, and he's off for the stitches.
Nastick plans to return to next year's tournament. "You meet a lot of influential people here. I enjoy it. You get to see the other side of them -- the ones who whimper."
Sporting Life in Corporate America The official Classic condiment is Heinz Lite Ketchup, sticky bottles of which can be found at the Complimentary Heinz Fixins table. The official waters are Evian and Saratoga ($1.25 a bottle from the tired woman under the umbrella). The official car is Volvo, which is "presenting" the Classic and has placed outside the stadium a gray Volvo station wagon and a butterscotch sedan on small platforms surrounded by flowers and velvet ropes.
Except for the hot dogs, which are not only bad but large, no thing or person at the Classic goes unlabeled. Many young boys in T-shirts already owe their allegiance to Shearson Lehman Bros. ("Concentration is clarity," explains a Shearson ad in the program, presumably for the edification of the boys wearing the T-shirts. "It is what keeps your emotions from getting the better of you.")
Other children live under the double insignia burden of Woodies and Reebok, which have joined T-shirt forces. Circuit City is distributing visors emblazoned with the store name and Cooper Plantscaping ("12 years experience on: Luxury Homes, Embassies ...") has placed small cards with its name at the bases of the trees in the hospitality tents.
They're all here because the market is good. As Volvo explains in the tournament program, "... an association with tennis made sense to Volvo because of the demographic similarity between the recreational tennis player and fan and the Volvo buyer. According to ... Tennis Magazine ... , the median household income for the tennis player/spectator is $54,000 while the median household income for Volvo buyers is $54,300 ..."
A Volvo press release adds, "Through its myriad promotional events and programs in tennis, the company estimates that over two billion impressions of the name Volvo will be made on the American public alone this year."
Tent Land Who would have thought the world contained so many identical rose velour couches?
Arranged in "conversation areas" around identical wooden end tables, couch after couch sits under the oblivious sun in rosy, fuzzy splendor. The green outdoor carpeting gleams. Four blue-and-white tents welcome anyone with an invitation. Beyond the carpeting, the ground is dry and dusty, but here, in the hospitality area, all is hospitable.
"This used to be called the Classic tent," the volunteer says. "Now it's called the Saratoga Club. Maybe they thought it was more classy." The volunteer sits behind the table, directing players, volunteers and members of the Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation (which will receive more than $150,000 from the tournament to support tennis for young people) toward the bar, lunch counter and couches. A few bodies, flushed and sweaty, are strewn across the velour.
The weather has been a source of some concern. "It is a little warm here," says a second volunteer.
"But I don't think it's objectionable, do you?" says the first.
Although they would be welcome, players rarely venture into the tent.
"They practice on those courts," says the second volunteer, pointing beyond the tent. "We can see their feet from here. If you really chase them, you can get their attention."
"But you have to be very aggressive," says the first, whose voice suggests she does not approve of such behavior.
"My friends are big on getting autographs," says the second. "They volunteer at the information desk at the hotel because it's a bit easier there."
"Some people are better at that than others," smiles the first. Both say no, they would not care to give their names.
"There are so many volunteers," says the first. "It would be discriminatory."
The Past, the Present, the Future Time was, almost every volunteer could have his or her own tennis pro. When the tournament began in 1969, the first prize was only $5,000 and all the players lived with volunteers for the course of the event. "I remember the first year," says tournament cochairman John Harris, "the man who won leaned over and said, 'This is too much money for one person.' " Harris smiles. Ah, how things have changed. This year, the Classic will give out more than $290,000 in prize money. Next year, in order to qualify as a Super Series event on the Nabisco Grand Prix tour, the Classic will up the pot to $500,000.
"Then the tournament had a different flavor to it because we had the matches in the afternoon," Harris says. "We'd finish about 4 and there were parties every night and we would all go and the players would go. Now, the corporations give parties, and the players are much more serious about their work."
Some lament the change.
"We used to get a lot of European and South American players," says Mary Mladinov, cochairman for player hospitality. "That gave a certain international flavor to the tournament that fit in well in Washington. Also, they seemed to have a more gregarious spirit that seemed to lend the tournament pizazz. There's been so much publicity about how wonderful this change is for the tournament, and they've sold so many tickets, which is great, but with any change, you lose something. Maybe we didn't get the big names, but we always knew we'd see a lot of good tennis and fun people to deal with. The bigger it gets, the less personal it gets."
Fun Fun Fun There have been some problems with the tournament, most notably a controversy over renovation proposals for the Rock Creek Tennis Stadium. The Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation and tournament cochairman Donald Dell, who is also head of ProServ, the Washington-based sports management firm that manages and promotes the tournament and represents Connors and Lendl, among others, are pitted against the National Capital Planning Commission, which has yet to approve the alterations to the site. Some high school athletic directors and neighborhood residents are also upset, the former because playing fields have been turned into tennis courts and the latter over potential traffic and parking problems.
All of that remains to be resolved. And if some point out that this is hardly a top tournament, that once you pass the cream of the players the skill falls off dramatically, the Classic faithful know that, for now, in Washington this is as good as it gets.
"A lot of Washingtonians really love this," says Harris, "because in Washington you go to so many black-tie affairs and charity affairs and those things and then in the summer there's not much to do. But up here you can put on your Bermudas or your polos and let your hair down. People have said it's a festival atmosphere."
Says tournament director Henry Brehm, "It's a social place to be."
And, come dusk, the social place heats up. Inside the Wimbledon tent, which is guarded by two 10-foot-tall wooden Beefeaters, a South Carolina resort cultivates potential buyers. Long lines of madras-covered legs assemble at the Volvo tent, there to receive silver parachute-cloth duffel bags. In the Prudential Realty Group tent, an accordion pipes out "If I Were a Rich Man." And soon enough, it's time for the evening match to begin.
The Press Conference Boris Becker has beaten John Ross. "Who's John Ross?" you ask. Why, he's the man standing over there at the tent pole, talking to a solitary woman, unrecognized, unnoticed by the reporters who are waiting to talk to the man who beat him 6-4, 6-2. Finally, a crisp-voiced woman suggests the press speak to John Ross. He sits down behind the microphone, leans forward, fiddles with a loose lock of hair.
"Playing someone like that isn't what I'm used to at this point," Ross says. Then he says a few other things, shrugging, fiddling with that lock, sighing, smiling nervously. Silence.
"All set?" asks the woman, crisply.
"All set with that. Okay, thanks," she tells Ross. He gets up. "Thanks," he says, and wanders off.
And then, after much time, Becker finally appears, surrounded by an entourage of husky men and teen-age boys in tennis gear who are clearly puffed up with the importance of walking next to the man who won Wimbledon twice before he was 19.
"I felt 100 percent," Becker says. No one doubts it. He finishes, the entourage reconvenes. A man who is clearly attached to the teen-age boys primes his camera. "Just stand there with him!" he hisses, and click click clicks as the entourage rushes out.