Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bidding adieu ... but it's not easy

The images of the Indianapolis Tennis Center that you see in this post were taken in July, shortly after Robbie Ginepri had defeated Sam Query, 6-2, 6-4
, to win the 2009 Indianapolis Hardcourt Championships. The crowd of 6,518 attending the final had filed out of the stadium, and the tennis facility staff was in the throes of its stadium cleanup.

I'd been on a shoot along the Downtown Canal when I
came to this point very near the canal. I saw that entry points to the stadium were wide open, I knew the tournament final had been held that day, and so I decided to get some shots of the facility.

I've been a pretty ardent tennis fan for some time, and I'd known the Indianapolis event had been in a bit of trouble in recent years. It had been losing money since RCA left as a title sponsor in 2006, though its popularity started to wane noticeably -- and disturbingly -- three years earlier when the men's professional tour, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), moved the event date back a full month to July. Previously, it always had been held in August, and as such served as a key preparatory stop only two weeks before the start of the tour's final grand slam event of the year, the U.S. Open in New York City. Knowing all that, I still had no inkling when I took these pictures that the 2009 Indianapolis tournament that had just finished ... also would be the last. I now relish the fact that I followed my instincts to grab these shots when I had the chance.

It has been difficult for me to read recent news stories reporting that the event will be sold and moved out of Indianapolis (and supposedly to Atlanta). Indy had held this event -- clay or hardcouts -- since 1969. I had been in Indianapolis less than a year in 1979 when the Indianapolis Sports Center (its first name; it would later be renamed the Indianapolis Tennis Center) opened. Jimmy Connors helped christen the new facility by claiming the last of his four men's U.S. Clay Court Championships, beating Guillermo Vilas of Argentina in the final, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.

The city surrendered the U.S. Clay Court Championships in favor of a hardcourt event in 1988 (Side note: The Clay Courts has had eight "homes" since departing Indy; its current locale is the River Oaks Country Club in Houston). The hardcourts tournament had two title sponsors that I can recall in its lifespan -- GTE and RCA. The hardcourts event did very well in its halycon days, peaking at almost 100,000 in full-tournament attendance. Several times players voted it their favorite of the year on the ATP tour. Organizers tried to find a new title sponsor after RCA pulled out, to no avail. The 2009 tournament attendance was only 41,000; it probably would have done better if Andy Roddick, the only player in the Top 10 who committed to play the event, hadn't pulled out at the last minute with an injury.

I saw Connors play at the facility, though not in 1979. It wasn't until 1992, Connors' last hurrah on the ATP circuit (in 1991, he had made a remarkable and inspiring run to the semifinals of the U.S. Open at the age of 39), that I actually made it to see the player I still regard as my favorite and the most entertaining to watch in all of pro tennis. I remember he won his first two matches of the '92 Indy Hardcourts tourney before falling in the third round.

So Connors was the first, and Ginepri the last, to claim championships at this very nice facility.

These images are from only the last.

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