By Thomas Swick
Two hours before her final’s match with Agnieszka Radwanska, Maria Sharapova practiced her serve on the stadium court. A staff member put towels on the chairs and drinks in the cooler. A cameraman removed the tarp from a TV camera. The quiet birth of a big event.
A few minutes later, Radwanska appeared and Sharapova departed, stopping to sign autographs for the small crowd already gathered in the corner by the tunnel. During a break in the Polish woman’s practice, a man with a flute walked on the court and, standing just inside the baseline, played a few notes. He beat a retreat when the Poles walked back on the court. In the stands, a blond girl posed in the orange Ivanovic-Hantuchova tennis dress for her camera-happy father. Balls dotted the court like monochrome Easter eggs. When Radwanska finished her practice, the small crowd in the corner broke into applause. She too stopped to sign autographs.
At little before 12:30 a color guard marched onto the court, followed by Nestor Torres. So that’s who that was with the flute. He played the Star-Spangled Banner on it. The final notes were drowned out by a flyover.
The match went as expected, a duel pitting Sharapova’s power (and ill-timed overhitting) against Radwanska’s consistency (and occasional softballs). The only surprise was that for the first 11 games there were no breaks – making it, in that respect, more like a top men’s match (except with fewer aces). Generally, Sharapova held more easily, but Agnieszka was tenacious, and ultimately successful, in fighting back when down on her serve. Then, serving at 5-6, Sharapova made some unforced errors that cost her the set.
The second set was pretty much a repeat of the first, with alternating holds and lengthy rallies. At the start of the 6th game I noticed Glen Outlaw, the 52-year-old ball boy. He was at his preferred spot, chair side baseline. Though Sharapova, serving, didn’t take a single ball from him. After each point he would raise his arms high above his head, a ball in each hand, and Sharapova would without fail turn to the ball girl. She never asked for the towel, either. I wondered if, like Petrova, she felt bad asking him for things.
The second set ended as the first one had, with Sharapova losing her serve, though this time in the 10th game instead of the twelfth. The day’s second break was the ultimate one. Soon the court was taken over by a stage crew, laying down carpet and building a stage. Photographers swarmed, crowding the net like insects on flypaper. Trophies were presented and speeches were heard. When she finally made her way to the tunnel, Radwanska found a large Polish flag hanging down from the stands. She gamely signed it.