Depth in women's tennis? You got it. Now maybe Marcelo Rios and other chauvinistic players on the men's tour will. At this year's Australian Open, Rios criticized the women's game for lack of depth, saying there were too many lopsided wins in the early rounds, and that fans need not pay attention until the quarterfinals. Perhaps if he'd had a seat at the 30th annual Family Circle Cup, he'd either shut up or change his tune.
Throughout the 64-player singles draw, no seeded players faced each other. And the tournament attracted lots of top players -- Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles, Lisa Raymond and Meghann O'Shaughnessy, all of whom were in Charlotte last weekend for the Federation Cup; as well as Serena Williams, Jelena Dokic, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce and Amanda Coetzer. In covering tennis for nearly 25 years, I've never seen so many upsets. The biggest giant-killer was Schnyder, who defeated Mauresmo, Pierce, Williams and Capriati en route to the final.
The other history written at the tournament was on the lighter side.
For the first time on the tour, players could bring their dogs to the event to be cared for while they were playing. That's right, doggie day care has come to a tennis tournament near you. The Federation Cup allowed pets into the player lounge, as many sites do, but didn't provide canine care.
"Martina's Puppy Park" -- named for pet lover Martina Navratilova -- was about 10 yards square with a tent covering about 40 percent of the area. Voluntarily staffed by Charleston-area veterinary tech students and instructors from Trident Technical College, the park housed as many as 11 canines at once -- which fortunately didn't erupt into what play on the court is often called, a dogfight.
"Most of the dogs know each other and get along," says Landry Kay, a vet tech student at Trident's Moncks Corner site. "We only had to crate (confine) a couple of them."
Among some of the pets present were Capriati's Labrador retriever, Happy, the only big dog in the group; Lisa Raymond's miniature dachshund, Casy; Sanchez-Vicaro's chihuahua, Tina; and Serena Williams's Jack Russell terrier, Jackie, and miniature Yorkshire terrier, Little Man.
Navratilova, who played doubles at Family Circle, brought enough four-foots for a basketball team. Normally, only her toy fox terrier, Bina, travels with her. The other four pupsters in tow were Sophie, a Jack Russell terrier; Madison and Leo, two Boston terriers; and Athena, a French bulldog.
Madison, a three-month-old puppy, was actually named during the tournament by fans, which was Navratilova's idea. From hundreds of entries at the event and at the tournament's web site, Navratilova picked the winning name, which was submitted by three fans.
Like their owners, the dogs were a big attraction. Fans gathered at the park, located between the Fan Zone and the players' parking lot. They talked to the animals, snapped pictures and even threw tennis balls for fetching.
Unlike his mom, Jennifer Capriati, Happy sometimes plopped down in a toddler-size royal blue swimming pool during timeouts. Capriati -- who may have liked to do the same given the heat from Barbara Schnyder (Capriati lost to her in the semifinals) and the on-court temperature of over 100 during the match -- was limited to drinking water and having an umbrella held over her head during change-overs.
Media director Reynolds hopes the park starts a trend on the tour. She doesn't know if the French Open or Wimbledon will take it on, but outdoor tournaments in the US could be good possibilities. "Martina would like to see it and other players would, too," she says. "It's been a huge, huge success. It helps the players, and fans love to see the dogs the players travel with. It's been fun and interesting for them."
Says Navratilova, "A tennis player's life on the road can be very lonely and pets provide a sense of normalcy and comfort. To have a tournament create a specific area where players can drop off their dogs while they are on site practicing or playing a match is a great service to offer us. It certainly puts our minds at rest knowing that our pets are being taken care of."
Players have been traveling with their dogs for years. Perhaps the most famous canine is Topspin, who, in the 1970s, used to carry a racquet on the court for French star Frankie Durr. Most of the time, though, dogs accompanying touring pros are confined to a hotel room for long periods while their owners are playing. Players have to make arrangements to ensure they're taken care of, which isn't always easy. At Family Circle, they could just drop off their pets and pick them up when they were finished.
"We play with the dogs, feed them, keep them nice and cool and make sure they get plenty of water," says vet tech student Kay. "We basically baby-sit them so the players aren't worried about them."
As you might suspect, Navratilova inspired the idea for the park. For years, Reynolds had wanted Navratilova to play doubles at Family Circle -- where she won singles titles in 1982, '83, '88 and '90. (She retired from singles competition at the end of 1994.)
So when Reynolds heard about recent trouble Navratilova had with dog accommodations at a tournament in California, Reynolds talked to her about it, then conferred with Women's Tennis Association Director of Communications Jim Fuhse. "We have so much room on Daniel Island (the Charleston tournament site) and the tournament is so laid back, that I thought there's got to be something we could come up with," Reynolds recalls.
Next year, the tournament will likely increase the park space and provide a big fan that blows a cooling mist, Reynolds says. The fan would have been helpful this year given unseasonably high temperatures off the court of 85 to 95 degrees. Because of the heat, Lisa Raymond and other players sometimes took their pets inside the air-conditioned clubhouse when they were eating or relaxing. "These dogs aren't outside this much," says Kay.
They obviously have it too good at Martina's Puppy Park, what with the food, water, toys and kind hands to pet them. After Navratilova's dogs visited the site for the first time, they clamored to go back. "I wish every tournament took this approach," she says. *