¡Hola a todos! Yes, I’m practising, as I would like to take a little moment to introduce a new contributor to this blog, an Argentine friend and colleague who offered to write some articles for this blog now and then, to which I agreed. Sebastián is a tennis lover, as you will definitely see upon reading his post about the Fed Cup, I’m sure, but you will see it even more with each post he will offer us. His main expertise is with the Juniors, but mostly, I’ve noticed with time, on the girls’ side, although he knows his tennis through and through, especially as far as the Latin American players are concerned.
I hope you will all wish him a very warm welcome and, as he told me, do not hesitate to comment and give him feedback.
Without further ado, here is his first contribution to Running Forehand, the only one that will have an introduction from yours truly. ¡Bienvenido, Sebastián!
Signs Of Reconstruction
Scepticism and uncertainty were almost implied when the Asociación Argentina de Tenis (AAT) confirmed Parque Roca to host the Fed Cup World Group 2 play-offs tie against China.
Shadows of empty stands came right to mind, especially as we recall the only tie played at Mary Terán de Weiss stadium (the biggest in the country) in 2008, when they defeated Austria (World Group 2) in one of the last victories of the local team apart from those of the the Americas Zone.
No top 100 players were present for China this time as they confirmed that neither of Li Na, Zheng Jie, and Peng Shuai were going to be part of the tie. This added hesitation but no less hurtful asymmetries used to describe that usual abyss of interest between men and women’s tennis, as many thought that attendance would be even lower without the presence of the Chinese top players.
Unwilling to allow a similar fate to happen, an online “word of mouth” campaign was put up weeks before between players, coaches, organizers, journalists, media, blogs, and fans in order to invite everyone to come see the matches. As a result, what was going to be a 4-1 victory for the South Americans had a rare atmosphere, with an attendance of 4,500 people in the two days of the tie, the highest amount of public in years at a Fed Cup event.
One of the key elements of the tie was the bonding between the players and the public. Rising star Paula Ormaechea, herself a fresh and magnetic figure, was obviously the centre of attention (and admiration) of kids and youngsters, male and female, who were constantly cheering.
Many of them, even the youngest ones, were much aware of her current Argentine no 1 status, as well as of her wins over Top 100 rivals, and screamed her name relentlessly during her matches, thus confirming a bonding process that began a few months ago, when she had her media breakthrough, at the Australian Open.
Her teammates didn’t stay behind. Double partners María Irigoyen and Mailén Auroux were even more involved and joined several countrymen to root for the team in a quite Davis Cup-like atmosphere. Argentina’s no 2 singlist, Florencia Molinero, and her coach, former doubles specialist Laura Montalvo, also spent considerable time chatting and sharing experiences with junior players, after training with them during days, giving them a closer look to what the professional world is. The motivating cross of generations invited to build a team of much more than four players.
Rebirths haven’t exactly been a common factor in Argentine ladies tennis. Immersed in considerable financial and sponsorship difficulties, the route to become professional isn’t exactly a field day. Still very green in developing several intermediate tournaments (ITF events, for instance), which can serve as a platform for players to get to next levels, the whole region is still looking for ways out of setbacks, retirements and bad fortunes that have become paradigmatic over years.
As fas as symbolic gestures go, this weekend was the sum of needed factors in order to reconstruct women’s tennis history in Argentina, or at least to embark on recovering the presence it used to have during the glorious years of Gabriela Sabatini. Reciprocal calls were evident: a public avid to reclaim its team, and a team avid to reclaim its public. Perhaps unexpected, both coincided in an “us”, rather than just a “them”, and its consequent collaborative nature. Even if precocious, it is, nonetheless, a start. A patiently awaited one.
By: Sebastián Capristo