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Tennis... What a Racquet
Published Thursday, April 16, 2009 12:30 PM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
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She screams out in frustration as her ball hits the net. "Why are you hitting low percentage balls," Bethanie Mattek-Sands blurts out as she watches her ball bounce back to her. Walking back to the service line, she gathers her composure and sends the next shot screaming over the net. Happy with her shot, Mattek-Sands celebrates with a small fist pump.

Elena Dementieva, Russia, serves the ball against Julie Ditty, USA, Tuesday evening at the Family Circle Cup.

Thousands of tennis fans descended upon Daniel Island this weekend as Mattek-Sands and other women's professional tennis stars gathered to play at the Family Circle Cup.

Avery Nuckolls, 6, shows off her signed over-sized tennis ball.

The cup first started in 1973 and was played at Hilton Head before moving to Charleston in 2001 and the newly built Family Circle Cup Magazine Stadium. The partnership of Family Circle Magazine and the cities of Charleston and Daniel Island has allowed local fans the opportunity to watch the biggest names in women's tennis compete.

Fans of all ages come to watch the 9-day event which includes not only tennis matches but clothing shops, local food vendors and interactive fan zones.

Mariana Duque Marino slides with a forehand to reach the ball against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA

The Courts

I love tennis... been shooting the sport for many years. My favorite thing about shooting at the Family Circle Cup is the clay courts. The courts are covered with a grainy layer of clay that records every mark from the strike of the ball to the imprint of a shoe.

The speed of play is slowed a bit but it is fun to watch as the players race across the court and slide, sending clay flying, as they reach out to connect with the ball. By the end of a match, the shoes of the players are usually covered with grains of clay.

Crews sweep and clean the clay courts between sets.

The type of play actually changes on clay because the speed of the ball slows. Therefore, players don't depend on a powerful serve or shot to win a match but accurate ball placement and defense.

After every set and match, crews come out to sweep the surface and lines to smooth the surface and remove old ball and shoe marks.

The chair umpire points to a mark left by the ball showing a serve was hit wide.

The Players

All of the matches were exciting to watch but none was better than watching Venus Williams and Sania Mirza play. Williams, a crowd favorite came out strong and looked to win with an easy victory in the first set. Mirza fought back and won the second set before finally losing the final set to Williams.

Even though the clay slowed the speed of play, Williams still was hitting serves across the net at over 100 mph.

Venus Williams, USA, returns a backhand against Sania Mirza, India.

The level of play depended on the matchup. Most games lasted at least 2 hours, while some lasted longer. On Tuesday evening, number one seeded Elena Dementieva, of Russia, defeated American Julie Ditty in less than an hour. Ditty managed to win a point much to the delight of the crowd as they cheered her on.

Hunter Hines and his wife Lindley Hines hit a ball around with extra large racquets at the Dunlop booth.

No matter how long the games lasted or who played, some drama could be found on the court. Players would scream out in frustration or fire themselves up after winning a game.

Once during the Williams/Mirza match Venus fell to the ground as the audience gasped. Getting back up, she wiped the clay off and jumped back into the action. Later when asked about the spill, she said her shoe didn't slide like it was supposed too and she got tripped up.

Mariana Duque Marino celebrates with a quiet fist pump.

Some players would debate a call and the chair umpire would jump down to inspect the mark. The nice thing about clay is the marks left by the ball leave little room for error although the crowd did not agree with the calls sometimes.

Venus Williams leaps off the clay during a serve.

The Atmosphere

The popularity of tennis in Charleston is evident by the number of people who attend the tournament. During the afternnoon matches porfessionals came for lunch, eating courtside so they can catch a bit of the action. Just as many came for the shopping and food around the stadium as they did the matches. Many enjoyed drinks on the lawn while others visited and shopped at the booths along the paths.

In the stadium, many watched and cheered from their seats while others sat in roped off areas along the concourse enjoying a meal or a drink. On the court, officials and ball boys and girls lined the walls. Line judges would yell out if a ball was wide and the ball boys and girls chased down loose balls and quickly raced back to their spots.

The stadium was surrounded by tents as boutiques and vendors sold clothing and merchandise. Kids and adults tried their hand at hitting balls or watching exhibitions. Fans could purchase anything from cotton candy to extra large tennis balls.

A ball girl waits to throw in balls in before serves.

An interesting event I found was the Wheelchair Tennis Exhibition & Clinic. Area athletes came out in special chairs and played a doubles match with able-bodied athletes. They spun and turned, raced across the court while positioning themselves to return the ball. It was interesting to learn wheelchair tennis is played at the Wimbledon and U.S. Open.

Sarah Castello returns the ball during a wheelchair tennis exhibition.

Back at the stadium court, players were feeling the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat as the tournament progressed.

Mattek-Sands refocused and confident battles with Mariana Duque Marino through two close sets before getting a hard fought victory.

Coach and husband celebrate after Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA, wins her match.

Mattek-Sands finishes her set and match before finally releasing a big smile as she looks for her husband in the stands. As she perpares for the next match, Duque Marino returns home and prepares for the next tournament.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Mariana Duque Marino leave the court after their match.

Between singles, doubles and exhibition matches, there were many chances to watch tennis this week. The tournament is not over though and the finals take place on Sunday so visit the Family Circle Cup for tickets.

Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at

Comments (2)

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Just amazing
Sunday, April 19, 2009 10:35 PM

I view literally hundreds of photos of this tournament every year and these are exceptional. I'm starting to look for Zoeller's photos and am never disappointed. Well done and looking forward to more!

Posted by: Tennis Fan
Sunday, April 19, 2009 3:28 PM

Nice shot of Bethanie coach and husband after her winning match. Wheelchair tennis, wow...

Posted by: Co Hoa

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