The Grand Slam of South America
March 28, 2011 -- If you're a player of Spanish, South American, or any strand of the Hispanic culture you are a huge fan favorite here at the Sony Ericsson Open. So much so, that it's been nicknamed the Grand Slam of South American.
Of course this apt endearment reflects the obvious -- Miami-Dade's Hispanic population was 63% in 2009, according to the U. S. Census Bureau. Couple that stat with the love of being entertained by sports stars you could almost call kissing kin and tickets can sell as fast as icy limonadas on a hot, sticky day at Crandon Park.
Today on the Grandstand court, Tomas Berdych (#7 seed) had all he could handle with Argentine Carlos Berlocq, the man who took out a wiggy Ernests Gulbis in the second round.
Berlocq is not a familiar name on the ATP Tour; he doesn't have any titles. He is 28 and married, not that that should open the pasture gates for a player either. Roger Federer will be 30 in August, and he's probably not amenable to lazing about in a hay field scattered with cows given his reaction to the one Switzerland gave the 16-time major winner after he won his first major title at Wimbledon in 2003.
"'It was a total surprise,'" a genuinely shocked-looking Federer told swissinfo.com. "'Now I need to find a garage for a cow, although I have no idea what a cow garage looks like.'"
Argentine Berlocq had every fan that sat on the east side of the court in his corner. Dozens of people held Argentine flags, furiously waving them with each point Berlocq earned. Although the match only went two sets and in Berdych's favor, moments were tense. Berlocq went up a break in the first set, lost it, and then played his heart out to reach a tiebreak. There, too, he earned the upper hand, but doubled faulted on his first opportunity to win the set. Berdych didn't need much more of an invitation.
Berlocq looked South American, too. Not to say if you saw him walking down the street you'd think, aha... he comes from Argentine. He looked South American in his style of tennis, which was more reminiscent to clay court tennis than what you normally see on a hard court.
His game was very physical. He leapt at shots, twirling his racquet overhead the way Nadal whips his racquet. Berlocq had a delayed grunt, an afterthought more the sound of a dying idea than one to spur him on. However, his one-handed backhand and forehand penetrated the court with brilliance, leaving Berdych with nothing left to do than walk to the other side of the court at times.
Berlocq earned a well-deserved standing ovation as he walked off the court, Argentine flags in full view of television cameras.
The cultural bonds that link Hispanics begin with their common language, which is spoken in Spain, Central America, much of South America, the Philippines, parts of Africa, and the United States. Distinctions in dialect have influenced the culture's evolution although the people continue to share traditions, foods, music, religious beliefs, and literature.
Take a walk around any part of the grounds here and dozens of different languages could draw your attention, but Spanish would be the dominant one as well as English. Search radio stations, as you wait in thick traffic along the Rickenbacker Causeway. It won't be long for rhythms of salsa fill your senses. And, it's rhythm that drives a good tennis game, too, according to Maria Sharapova's take on her defeat of #4 seed Samantha Stosur 64 61.
"Sometimes you come out, you feel you're swinging away, and things are going well," she began searching for the right words. "You have a good rhythm on your shots; you're moving well."
The country of Argentina caught the rhythm, too, as it posted an ad on the jumbo-tron high above center court: Argentina -- "Beats to your rhythm."
Perhaps the beats that set apart salsa, tango, and the Caribbean merengue glide through the air here. Sharapova is about as Hispanic as Andrea Petkovic, but who can really prove that the rhythm Petkovic discovered during her 75 36 63 victory today over the #1 seed Dane Caroline Wozniacki wasn't influenced, just a bit, by the Latin flavor of south Florida.
Even the revered Roger Federer was at the wrong end of fan support, today, especially when Argentine Juan Monaco threatened. However, the photographers only had eyes for the #3 seed Federer. They clicked away as he squandered three set points, forcing a tiebreak which he eked out.
He defeated the Argentine 76(4) 64. As Monaco left the court he waved at a few avid supporters who relentlessly yelled, 'Pico, pico, pico," whatever that means. To Monaco, though, it warranted his salute.
But the place shook as the Spanish King Rafael Nadal and his friend, turned opponent for the moment, Feliciano Lopez appeared on stadium court, a double dip of Spanish athleticism fans had anticipated for hours.
Lopez is a lopsided 2-6 against Nadal, head to head. The last time Lopez beat his countryman was in 2010 at Queen's Club, a straight set victory on grass. Lopez has always preferred the quickness of grass, where he performs best. The courts at the SEO are slow, very slow, which favors the clay courters, Nadal the most famous one.
"This is as slow as it gets out on the hard court," Federer told the press today. "It's a bit of clay almost except that you can't slide."
Nadal wasted no time, sending his friend Feliciano out of the draw 63 62. Lopez began strong, winning the first dozen points on his serve. But as Nadal warmed up, finding his rhythm, the tables turned. Nadal will next face either the hot Alexandr Dolgopolov or Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.