©Colette Lewis 2011--
Flushing Meadows, NY--
The USTA/ITA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships begin on Thursday with a notable late withdrawal. One day after University of Virginia's Jarmere Jenkins withdrew, teammate Alex Domijan also pulled out, due to injury, not success at the Charlottesville Challenger, which is the reason for Jenkins' absence.
Domijan's place in the draw was taken by Christopher Aumueller of Nebraska, who will play Chris Mengel of Duke in a 4:30 match Thursday.
Many of the players practiced during the day, getting a feel for the court speed at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center's indoor facility. But in the late afternoon, the women put on their dresses and heels, the men their suits and ties, and while the coaches were whisked off to a meeting, the players were given a tour.
A number of the competitors had played at the US Open Junior Championships in past years, but most were eager to take the tour of the grounds and inside Arthur Ashe stadium. There is a desolate feeling to the place without the crowds, and it was strange to see the media center with the chairs and monitors fully encased in plastic. After eight years of covering the US Open, I am finally comfortable finding my way through the seemingly endless corridors between the media center and the player lounge, but there was always one door that I couldn't enter. Two doors, actually, those to the men's and women's locker rooms, where media is not allowed during the tournament.
We toured the men's locker room, and it was both smaller and bigger than I expected. The lounging area seemed huge, with lots of flat screen TVs, but the shower/toilet area wasn't large or particularly elegant. I hadn't envisioned the lockers being horizontal, or actually locking with keys, but I suppose both are practical considerations. Roddicks and Federer's lockers were on one end, Djokovic, Nadal and Del Potro on the other, with their names engraved on their individual lockers, the honor reserved for champions.
The locker room wasn't a first-time experience for several of the Indoor competitors. Trice Capra of Duke, Mallory Burdette of Stanford and Chelsey Gullickson of Georgia have all played in the main draw of singles or doubles at the Open, as has Ohio State's Chase Buchanan. But for most of the players on the tour, (and for me) it was a look at a place that existed only in our imaginations before tonight.
The tour ended at the Players Dining Room, where a buffet dinner catered by Carmine's was the primary attraction. There were a few short speeches, and keynote address by Katrina Adams, a USTA board member and Tennis Channel commentator, who played college tennis at Northwestern. Adams mentioned how special the players in the room were, as educated tennis players, and advised them to prepare for their lives 20 years down the road, whether it centers on tennis, as hers still does, or another occupation.
Matches begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday. Don't forget there is a Cover It Live blog this year, a free live chat that you can contribute to, or just monitor, to stay involved wherever you are. To follow on twitter, search the hashtag #nationalindoor.
The complete schedule, which is found on the draws, is available at the ITA tournament website.