Journey is a legendary Rock act from the ’70s/’80s, but the band is not done yet. The group put out its 15th album, Eclipse, last year, Journey's second effort with current lead singer Arnel Pineda, and is currently out on tour with fellow ’80s hitmakers Pat Benatar and Loverboy. The band's classic music is standing the test of time and crowds still react emotionally to its vast catalog of hits, as well as some of the new music selections.
CityBeat spoke with keyboard player Jonathan Cain, who is now in his fourth decade with the band, and discussed how he was influenced to write one of Journey's biggest hits, as well as how the band stays relevant in today’s ever changing musical landscape.
Journey performs the final concert of Riverbend Music Center's season tomorrow (Friday).
CityBeat: You guys have been touring on Eclipse for the past year. Are you guys working on new material yet?
Jonathan Cain: No, we are just settling into the touring aspect of things right now. We worked pretty hard on the last one and thought it was time to focus in. I recently had a child and (guitarist) Neal (Schon) has been going through all his things with Michaele (Salahi). We have been busy. I just opened a new studio in Nashville called Eviction Sound. We have been focusing on all the stuff we have to do. It’s a balance deal. We’ll start working on new music eventually.
CB: You mentioned some of the personal issues with Neal and Michaele. (Salahi, a former Real Housewives of D.C. star, left her husband for Schon in a very public "love triangle" soap opera.) Has any of that gotten in the way of the band’s activities?
JC: No. Not at all. They are getting through it and still in love. It’s all good.
CB: Any fond Cincinnati memories from the past?
JC: Fond Cincinnati memories? I have had some nice encounters with the fans down at the hotel bar there; closing the bar there would be the response. I do enjoy going to the ball games as well. Cincinnati always has a pretty good baseball team.
CB: I was recently covering the CMT Awards in Nashville and saw the performance with Rascal Flatts. How did that collaboration take place?
JC: The Rascal Flatts thing came about because we have a mutual friend. I play golf with one of the guys who produces the CMT Awards. He asked me one time on the golf course, “Who do you think Journey should do a (CMT's cross-genre showcase) Crossroads with?” And I said, “Honestly I think Rascal Flatts best fits with the sound Journey does,” and he agreed. We talked to their senior management and the rest was history. We will probably do a Crossroads together at some point.
CB: I couldn’t get the song out of my head for four days after that night.
JC: It’s one of those hummers. Every band needs one.
CB: My favorite Journey song ever is “Faithfully.” I know you wrote that song. Can you talk me through that process to put that song together?
JC: Basically, the song was written on the road. I was in Saratoga, NY, in upstate New York. We had just come off the bus and I was feeling a certain way watching the crew take the stuff down every night with the riggers and the roadies. I felt they needed to have a song and same with us. We all miss our family the same way. I don’t care who you are in this business, you still sacrifice something to be out on the road. It’s something I wrote for all of us.
It’s a good ol’ Country song that turned out to be a big ol’ hit. (Original singer) Steve Perry actually wanted that on his solo album and I declined. I said, “Journey or bust.” It was the last song we recorded on the Frontier album back in ’83. We never even rehearsed it. That was live in the studio. That was the third take. Steve put his signature vocal on it.
I was thrilled to have penned that song, then we played it live and the fans came back with “I’m forever yours, faithfully.” They turned it around and it was pretty cool.
CB: I have asked other artists about hits like that and they say, typically, the hits come out quickly. Was that the case with that one?
JC: Yeah, I wrote that in a half an hour on a napkin. It was very quick in the room. I woke up and I had started it. I wish I still had the napkin. I don’t have it. Then there was the keyboard I had on my bed I used to bump around ideas on. It was one of those Casio keyboards you just take in your suitcase. When I got to the gig, I got a real piano backstage at the Saratoga Performance Arts Center and sort of flushed it out.
The first time I did the demo, I was working with Keith Olson back in L.A. and he let me record it just by myself and that was what I played for everybody. He played it for the girls from Heart. He said Nancy (Wilson, guitarist) cried when she heard it. I thought that was a good sign. I guess they liked it.
CB: I saw on your website that you share blogs and journal entries. Have you kept journals all through your touring years?
JC: No, I should. I sort of dropped the ball on that one. I am getting inspired to write a new one. A lot has happened since the last one. I want to update the fans. It just may take on the highlights.
We have just had this movie released Every Man’s Journey. We debuted it at the Tribeca Film Festival and San Francisco Film Festival. It’s a documentary that was made by a Filipino lady that heard about Arnel (also Filipino) joining our band. So she came out on our tour. She spent her last four years following our buses around, coming to rehearsals. So they finally put a movie together. That was really exciting to attend and it really helped him solidify himself as he has evolved as an entertainer and a star. You see it actually happen, I think they are going to release it next Spring. It is really something. It is a neat story. We are proud of him.
CB: I find it very inspiring you welcomed someone new into the band and are so supportive of them moving forward.
JC: It was kind of a no-brainer. The guy can sing better than anyone can sing it. We went, “You know what. Let’s go with this guy.” We loved his heart. We loved the man as a father. The whole package. He makes us better. He is great.
CB: I saw in your journals you were blogging about South America and other places. I wish I had written down all my travel stories over the years. What has been your most memorable travel story recently?
JC: Actually, the European thing with my son was really great. We went to Europe and he went on the road with me and we got to go to some pretty incredible places. We played golf together in Scotland. There was this incredible experience, everything from the Eiffel Tower to the Royal Palace of Stockholm and to see it with your son is pretty darn cool. We went to San Salvatore, about a mile up and you look out from the Swiss Alps and it is breathtaking. I have to say that European trip was at the top of the list.
CB: Any habits you’d like to break?
JC: I probably drink too much wine.
CB: Any regrets over the years?
JC: No. I believe life is perfect. You live to learn from your mistakes and grow. If you regret something then lessons haven’t been learned. Everything you regret is something you haven’t accepted in life. Mistakes are chances to grow, chances to understand a deeper sense of who, what, and how you relate to the universe.
CB: Do you think Rock music is a dying art?
JC: No. I don’t. It is a niche now. We are a niche now. We aren’t as popular as we were but if you come to our show you can see it is alive and well. Just because the media has stiffed us doesn’t mean we aren’t out there in our own way. We are quietly playing for thousands and thousands of people. We have sold 800,000 tickets. It’s crazy. It’s a lot of people. It’s a good show. Pat Benatar is on the bill. We have Loverboy opening up when it is the three of us. We are having fun. We are keeping things alive.
CB: Are you a political band? We are in a critical election time. Are you planning to back any candidates?
JC: No. We stay out of that. If they want us to play and pay us a bunch of money, we will play for them.
CB: Either candidate?
JC: We would. The bottom line is we have a lot of fans on both sides. That’s my feeling. I’m tired of Republicans, I’m tired of Democrats. Let’s just get the people together and get shit done instead of arguing and bickering. This is the worst Washington has ever been. That’s just my take on it. (Journey reportedly was paid a half million dollars to perform during the Republican National Convention this year.)
CB: We are looking forward to you in Cincinnati. What can the fans look forward to that night?
JC: It is a cool mix of all of our stuff. Some new, some old. Great video, great lights. We have a new sound guy. Our P.A. sounds like a big, giant jukebox. I don’t think we are too loud. I think we sound cool. I think we look pretty cool. They are going to see a great show. It is going to be a good first class Rock show with a lot of hits.
Cincinnati has a rich brewing history, plain and simple. And if you haven’t been living in a hole for the past couple of years you know that. So it should be of no surprise that someone would take a piece of that history back home with them.
That’s exactly what 25-year-old Daytonite and founder of The Dayton Beer Company, Peter Hilgeman, did. “I have always been interested in beer, but my interest really peaked when I worked at The Party Source during college,” Hilgeman says.
Hilgeman, a 2009 University of Cincinnati graduate, spent some of his time working across the river at The Party Source in Covington, which for many is considered to be the local mecca for beer and spirits.
“Living in Cincinnati definitely inspired me to brew beer and open up a brewery in my hometown of Dayton,” he says. “Cincinnati and Dayton have amazing brewing traditions and I truly love the history that both cities share with regards to their brewing.
“I really wanted to restore that brewing tradition not only for Dayton, but throughout Southwest Ohio."
Hilgeman also spent five months traveling throughout Europe honing his pallet for exceptional beers from around the world.
With names like Patterson Pale Ale, Inventors IPA and Hawthorn Hill Hefeweizen, Hilgeman wanted to make something that Dayton could call its own and the Queen City could also be proud of.
“My goal for The Dayton Beer Comapy is simple. I want to provide people with great-tasting beer that they really love drinking and to help them learn about the great brewing traditions Dayton and Cincinnati have to offer,” Hilgeman says. “I want to be thoroughly involved in the community and give back whenever and wherever possible."
Hilgeman plans to have his beer available in a few bar locations in Mount Adams. “I hope that the Queen City will be able to have a few Dayton Beer Company beers in the next month or two,” Hilgeman says. “ I also intend to expand throughout Ohio and eventually to other states as well, but with our roots firmly entrenched in Southwest Ohio.”
The Dayton Beer Co. is set to opens its doors at 912 E. Dorothy Lane, Kettering, Thursday, May 17. The tasting room will be open Wednesday-Saturday until 10 p.m. Check out www.thedaytonbeerco.com for more information.
Jesse James Dupree is the lead singer of Jackyl, a metal band from Kennesaw, Ga., that's performing Friday at Bogart's. Jackyl was formed back in 1990 and have given their audience eight studio albums along with two live offerings. Their biggest success came with their self-titled first studio album which went platinum in 1992.
As the tournament progresses, it challenges us to keep up with the evolving storylines — the sudden defeat of major players and the quiet emergence of those who have escaped notice, the silent assassins.
My day started on Court 3, a make-up match between the ninth seed Na LI (CHN), the first Grand Slam winner from China, and qualifier Johanna Larsson of Sweden, who, on the morning of this match, was celebrating her 24th birthday and in her debut here in Cincinnati.
Li has been in the spotlight, with two Slam finals last year, but at 30 years old, one has to wonder if she has peaked too late. She is six years older than her opponent, but today, it is best to focus on experience rather than age because she displays a potent blend of wisdom and execution as she forces her younger foe to work harder and harder for the points she wins on her serve, while Li cruises through her own service games. She breaks Larsson twice with surgically precise shot placement, moving Larsson around at will. When Li captures the first set 6-2, it is plain that she is firmly in command and using the match as practice because thanks to the suspension of play from the previous night, the winner here will end up playing again tonight.
Another holdover from the rain delay is the battle between Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS), which was called with Pavlyuchenkova already up a set (6-4) on the number six seed and former number one player in the world.
By the time I settled into the stands, Wozniacki was down 4-3 in the second and Pavlyuchenkova held to take a 5-3 lead. The Russian woman looked like a pounding brawler, but a couple of points dispelled that misconception. Pavlyuchenkova tempered her obvious strength with well-placed balls that unerringly found line and corners of the court just beyond Wozniacki’s reach. A hold from the higher seed set up an opportunity for Pavlyuchenkova to serve out the match, much to the chagrin of the vocal fans on the Grandstand who possibly hoped to be able to catch a glimpse of Rory McIlroy later in the evening. Alas, it was not to be. Pavlyuchenkova slammed that book shut, earning a spot opposite Petra Kvitova to compete for a coveted semifinal match, where maybe the fans might join her cause.
Next up on the Grandstand, Venus Williams and the three-seed Samantha Stosur (AUS), the reigning US Open champion. Venus has had to exert a great deal of effort along the way and would probably appreciate an easier match here, but with the formidability of Stosur and her compact, punchy power that’s highly unlikely.
It is apparent though that Venus wants to be the aggressor, as she stands on top of the baseline for Stosur’s first serve and a foot inside on the second. This allows her to get the jump and force Stosur off-balance. An early break and a tough hold for Venus, followed by a quick hold and a break for Stosur, and any hope for a quick two-setter are completely out the window. Even though Venus breaks right back on her opponent’s next two service games and ends up taking the first set 6-2, something in the way Stosur carries herself says, this isn’t close to being over.
On Center Court, Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic (CRO) have already completed a set, which Djokovic took 6-3. Djokovic has had a fairly easy path thus far, especially his previous match, which ended when Davydenko retired after losing the first set 6-0, before last night’s rain. Today, he is a cat toying with his well-contained prey. Cilic is definitely in a tight corner with his back to the wall because before fans can blink, Djokovic is serving for the match with a 5-2 lead and just like that, it’s over. The cat has gobbled his prey up.
Stosur forced Venus to go back and forth with her on their way to a second set tiebreak, which she seized 7-2, but then Venus immediately broke her in the first game of the third set. As Venus reaches 3-1, most thoughts start to drift to a possible fantasy match-up of the Williams sisters in the final. Serena is set to start on Center Court and has dominated her court appearances thus far.
Television coverage of the end of the Venus-Stosur match means that Serena and Angelique Kerber (GER) are forced to wait.
A gritty battle for the final set goes to Venus (6-4) and we are tantalizingly closer to the dream.
Joe Morgan handles the coin toss to determine who serves to start the Serena-Kerber match. Serena serves and promptly gets broken, although she does seem too bothered. Her shots were either just a bit long or subject to the fickle fate of bounces off the net cord, which she will certainly adjust to as the match progresses.
Kerber, a much shorter player with reasonable power, works on moving Serena around and capitalizing on her error-prone play. There are flashes of Serena’s gifts – games where her serve, one of the best in the women’s game, cannot be touched – but those moments are fleeting. Instead, we see a Serena who has trouble timing her shots, sending swinging volleys into the net that should have been clear and rousing winners. She ends points staring off at either where the winner should have fallen or confused by the absurdity of this predicament she found herself in.
She seemed to be wondering where the real Serena Williams was, and she wasn’t alone. The only person not asking that question was Kerber, who took the match from whoever happened to be standing there in Serena’s lime-accented attire.
Final score: 6-4, 6-4.
CityBeat was able to speak with Anderson this week about protests, social issues and his thoughts on performance art.
CityBeat: Why did decide to bring the flute to Rock music?
Ian Anderson: When I was a young aspiring guitar player in my late teens I became aware of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Richard Blackmore, who were the hot-shot guitar players down in London, and I decided maybe I should switch from guitar and find something else to play. The shiny precision of the flute, the ergonomics, the design, the manufacture — it’s kind of like a Swiss watch. It appeals to my sense of physics and engineering. For a particularly good reason, other than the way it looks, I decided I would give that a go. I learned to play it by trying to imitate the lines I played on guitar — solos and rifts. So I became the flute player in a Blues band and I was the only flute player in a Blues band, which gave me the difference that helped Jethro Tull stand out from the crowd.
CB: One of my favorites on Thick as a Brick II is “Adrift and Dumbfounded.” Can you tell me a little bit of the story behind that song or how it came about?
IA: Having been picketed a couple nights ago in Kansas City by the Westboro Church, the “Godhatesfags.com” people … I am seen as a fag-hyphen-enabler according to that unworthy organization. I don’t think I am a homosexual, but I am a supporter of gay rights and a lot of my friends and people close to me are gay people and I find that the prejudices and difficulties faced by young people, particularly in post-puberty, where they are sometimes questioning their gender and their physiology because some people are just born that way … so, it is a difficult time for relationships with parents and for society around you.
It’s difficult now. Back in the ’60s, it was really scary. So at the time when homosexuality wasn’t just a predilection but an actual crime, punishable by the courts by incarceration, being gay was a difficult position for any young person to be in, so I decided I would write a parent’s perspective of what that may be like — to lose a child through lack of communication and understanding with the parental, to lose that child to drugs and to, essentially, male prostitution.
That is an extreme scenario but it happens out there in the world. These are issues that face society today. These are issues that have faced society throughout the history of mankind. These days I suppose we are more able to talk about it and to examine the possibilities themselves. I always have to think when I was 15 years old and a little unsure of myself, maybe that could have happened to me. I try to use some of my personal history with my parents, with the lack of communication, particular on matters of sex. I try to extrapolate a little on my own limited experiences in that world.
CB: The Westboro Baptist Church never ceases to amaze me. How did you handle it that day?
IA: I was rather hoping to see them in the flesh. Unfortunately, I had my spies out. I had my spies out to try to keep an eye out because I tried to get a photograph opportunity with these people. Unfortunately, at the time, I guess they showed up when the audience was coming in or going out. When the audience is coming in, I am busy in my dressing room changing and tuning up my guitar. Afterwards, I am busy changing again and packing up my instruments. Unfortunately, I did not get to see them. That is very disappointing. I was really hoping to have the opportunity to have a nice smiling photograph with them and their evil representatives.
CB: Why did you choose this tour to play the Thick as a Brick albums in their entireties?
IA: When you are planning any kind of stage show, your first obligation is to keep it on a level that will engage people and keep it interesting for them and present them with a lengthy piece of musical work with a 15-minute intermission. You have to put your thinking cap on and try to construct everything to keep the audience with you, especially if you are playing a lot of music (with) which the audience is unfamiliar, you have got to make it work the first time around. It is not the result of hearing it many times so you have to make it a piece of working entertainment.
It seems to be successful because I have yet to see, when I go onto the second half of the show, any empty seats as a result of people leaving at halftime. Normally people stay until the end of the show and they seem to follow the momentum of the whole show. You get a personal sense of achievement when you present a large amount of relatively unknown music and you keep people engaged and enjoying the stage.
I don’t think many bands would attempt to do that. I can afford to do it because, a) I am prepared to take more risks musically and, b) I am really kind of doing it for me more than I am doing it for the audience anyway. I have always been a musician who has gone out there to make myself happy. You have to really have your own personal goals you achieve every night in performance. Primarily, I will say, it is nice you folks are here as well, but if you weren’t here, I would be doing this anyway. I am just doing this for fun.
CB: You have seen music change in the way it is recorded over many decades. Do you think it sounds better or worse today?
IA: Music has evolved in the terms of recording techniques over a period of about 60 years, hugely. It goes back to the early stages of monophonic and stereophonic tape recorders, which is what it was when I was a teenager.
When it got to the mid-’60s, it was becoming possible to create the simplest multi-track recordings, usually using two-track recorders, but bouncing back between the two to get a four-track sound. The very first Beatles recordings were made that way. By the time they got to Sgt. Pepper, they were recording with four-track and shortly on the heels of that came eight-track.
The first album I recorded was done on eight-track in 1968. That quickly evolved into 16-track and then to the most often used standard of 24-track, which continued through the late ’80s and even in some cases into the ’90s.
Frankly, the digital age really came about not in the ’80s or the ’90s but in the last 10 years, because that technology began to support 24-bit audio recording, which effectively mimics the human hearing to detect the difference between that and the original audio signal. We have 24-bit 96k recording, which is essentially all we need. We don’t need to advance upon that standard. We’d have to grow new ears before we could benefit any further resolution of earlier technology.
It is the same thing as when cameras hit the 10 mega-pixel mark … essentially equal (to) the very best film quality of film cameras in the last 50 or 60 or 70 years. We have now fairly commonly cameras that will deliver resolutions of 24 megapixels, which will be essentially much better quality you or my eye could fully appreciate.
We are there with audio and visual. We have now reached, during these last four or five years, human physiology would have to change for us to benefit from any increase of the resolution of the technology we are working with now. It is as good as it needs to be. We are there. We are done. We have reached the limit in terms of audio recording and digital recording.
CB: Was there a single incident that changed how you approached music?
IA: Well, I suppose a single incident was the first moment I played notes on a musical instrument, because I was aware as a small child of music as church music and music of Big Band Wartime Jazz, which my Father played on 78-rpm records.
It wasn’t until I was 9 years old and I acquired for a couple of dollars a plastic Elvis Presley ukulele and I strummed my first simple chord on the ukulele. At that point, even though the instrument was a rubbish piece, I could actually strum some little chords and sing along with it, and that was the magic moment of making music the first time.
I suppose that was the single most important moment of discovering music. There are a lot of people who never learn to play anything on a musical instrument and I feel like they are missing out on something. But some of them might be bungee jumpers and they feel like I am missing out on something, because I haven’t thrown myself off a bridge attached to a long piece of elastic.
CB: What is your ideal day look like these days?
IA: It depends if I’m on tour. My ideal day is to wake up around 7 a.m. and be driving rather than flying and getting to another city, another hotel by lunchtime, finding a Red Lobster or McCormack & Schmidt and (eating) some seafood or that sort for lunch and then having a rest and getting my e-mails in the afternoon before going to sound check.
That’s kind of normal practice. If I am at home, I wake up a little earlier, usually around 6:30 a.m. and I usually, again because of working in different time zones, it’s a good time to check e-mails from last night, generally prepare, shower, play with the cats, let the dogs out. If it’s the weekends, I have to go and feed the chickens.
In my ideal world, it would be a mixture of sitting at my office desk, playing a little bit of music and having a little bit of time to walk around the garden and sit and talk to my cats.
CB: What is the biggest difference in touring in 2013 versus 1970?
IA: The biggest difference is you can take a little stress (out) as you are touring easily because of more organization. Twenty years ago and 40 years ago, travel was a lot more disorganized that it is today. We can now be planning the next tour while we are doing this one.
Later today and tomorrow morning when I have a little time off, I shall be booking some internal U.S. flights for the next tour, looking at the various cities and suggesting to my U.S. travel agent some hotels I would like to get quotes on. Generally speaking, doing that planning exercise, when it comes to doing the tour itself, hopefully everything is in place. Everybody knows where everybody will be on most hours on most days.
You can take the stress out of things these days, where it was not so easy many years ago. We had to employ tour managers and people to carry our bags and people to herd us like sheep through airports. These days, people have their virtual boarding pass, which they can collect online from the booking reference code, which was on the tour itinerary, and they can print out their own boarding pass and head straight to the gate. I think things are easier these days, not because of the level of security we face now that we didn’t face 40 years ago, even 20 years ago. That makes lines a little more stressful and perhaps a little longer in the course of the day. We allow for two hours at airports from flight times to be safe these days, not knowing how long security queues may be or what indignities we may have to suffer to keep ourselves safe from the bad guys.
CB: Do you have any fond or crazy Cincinnati tour memories from the past?
IA: Probably with a Holiday Inn, Hilton or a Marriott or two. My bonds tend to be with what my particular life throws at me. The airport, even after all these years, is strangely familiar. I have been tracking the evolution of the airport from the late ’70s — when we were accosted by the children of God, doing their evangelical work, trying to hand out bibles and stuff — all the way to today. Airports quite often have that sense of déjà vu, even that nostalgic memory for me — certain hotels, certain venues of course, iconic venues we still play today.
CB: What was your favorite live performance ever?
IA: It is probably the show in an American venue near Washington D.C. called Wolf Trap. It is my favorite because it is the one I am going to be doing tomorrow and the one I have to focus on and prepare for.
Past shows are in the past. I don’t dwell on those. I don’t have favorites. I don’t have preferences, except for a couple iconic venues, as I suggested. My favorite show is the one I am about to go out and attempt to do because I always have to think it could be my last. Walking on stage is not a God-given right; it is a privilege to be able to step out there into the spotlight another time. I just take each show as they come. My next show is always the best show of my life.
CB: What can the fans expect here in Cincinnati this weekend?
IA: They can expect all they like, but it won’t vary one iota in delivery to them. Their expectation may be many and may be varied, but we try to make a point of emphasis to play Brick 1 and then Brick 2, then a long call of classic repertoire.
We have a very tightly organized show. If anybody starts shouting out during the quiet moments of the show, they will be studiously ignored. I don’t even have time to admonish them. It happened to me last night when I came on stage, I was astonished to hear two female voices shouting at me in one of the spoken words sections with a delivery of theatrical passion. You wouldn’t be considered cultured to be shouting and whistling during a Shakespeare play — please don’t shout and whistle during the performance of mine because I am here to do the work. You are here to listen and if you don’t like it get up and leave. Don’t start interrupting me.
Once in a while you get a drunkard out there that gets to shout at your band, but it happens so rarely these days and it strikes me as so being incredibly curious. I think our audiences do understand this is not a regular Rock show but a theatrical presentation (for which) they have to sit and let me do the work. That’s what I am there for. I may be 66 years old but I am there to do a man’s work for two and a half hours, where you can sit back and, if necessary, bring yourself a comfy cushion and maybe a sandwich because it is a long show.
Seth Rogen’s rapid rise atop the comedic heap has been a welcome reprieve from the well-scrubbed, chiseled faces that dominate Hollywood’s leading-man landscape.
But how will Rogen handle success? Can he keep from going down the road of the similarly unconventional, increasingly one-note Jack Black?
Cincinnati heats up, but it does little to slow down the fans eager to follow their favorites all over the grounds of the Open. Another day of racing between matches to catch the highlights as a scattered flurry of notable pairings dot the landscape.
Jumping right in, I head over to Court 9 for a look at two players I caught on Day 1. American wild card Sloane Stephens against fellow wild card Italian Camila Giorgi who took out Francesca Schiavone with relative ease. Both women seemed sharp and ready in the opening round and this match promised more of the same.
Thanks to early double faults, Stephens breaks Giorgi for a 2-1 lead. Both players are striking the ball exceptionally hard. After a Stephens hold, Giorgi loses her concentration for a moment – a swinging volley on a shot that was going to drop long – and that leads to another break and a request to talk things over with her coach.
Stephens keeps her head down and gets to 5-1, before Giorgi is able to hold again, but it matters little once Stephens holds at love for a 6-2 first set.
Another outer court beckons me. Shuai Peng of China battles Italian Roberta Vinci on Court 7. Peng displayed great discipline in taking out last year’s finalist Jelena Jankovic in a marathon match Monday night, but she had no worries today. By the time I arrived, she had just broken to take a 5-3 lead. A quick hold gave her the first set.
Once again, I found myself seated near her coach on the bleachers.
Peng breaks quickly in the second set for a 2-1 lead and then just handles business to capture the match at 6-4. The only weak link in her game seems to be an inability to secure net volleys. This may haunt her as she moves further into the tournament.
Back on Court 9, Stephens is up 5-1. As with her first match, she’s clicking and looks extremely poised on the court. While Peng has a slight crack in her armor, Stephens appears to be a bit more fortified and ready for another round or two here.
Both women have strong and vocal fan bases as well who are excited to go on with them.
The second round of matches for the morning feature our first glimpses at the top seeds of the tournament.
Questions have dominated the discussion about the number two seed Novak Djokovic, facing off against Italy’s Andreas Seppi, with many seeking to compare his standing this year to where he was a year ago. Last August, he suffered just his second loss up to that point here against Andy Murray in the final. It was a run for the ages and his win at the US Open capped off a three-out-of-four Grand Slams and a world number one ranking.
Of course, now we see how the wear and tear of a long tennis season along with the constant media scrutiny can chip away at the resolve of even the best players. This year, Djokovic has seemed far more mortal, while still having an enviable record – he earned another Australian Open and looks poised to defend his US Open title.
During his first match here, fans got to observe how a top player works himself into a match and a tournament. For a comparable sports analogy might be fitting to look to boxing and the early rounds where the boxers are getting their bearings, moving and punching, but not for points or power yet, more to settle their nerves before establishing their game plans.
Djokovic was loose and a bit free-swinging initially, but he found his range on serve and then focused on picking the right opportunity to pounce on Seppi, who gamely fought through a few tough service games, but held his own. By the first set tiebreak though, Djokovic scored the min-break he needed to win 7-4 and the inevitability began to creep in for Seppi.
Over on the Grandstand, the number four seed Petra Kvitova (CZE) ran into a strong challenge from Mona Barthel of Germany who wisely decided early on to play a safe return game because Kvitova started off quite error-prone. Down 5-1, Kvitova looked listless and luckless as shot after shot either sailed out or flew of the net cord or the side of her racket. She kept at it though and picked her way back into the set before finally falling 6-4, but the last couple of games showed that if she found her hard-hitting form, she might be able to punch her way back into the match.
Djokovic found the next gear quickly and jumped up to a 5-1 lead in the second set, but Seppi dug in for a hold to make it 5-2, forcing Djokovic to serve it out. The final point of the match came on a soft volley into the open court and with a gentle smile for the fans, Djokovic, the winner last weekend in Toronto, was ready to move on.
Kvitova apparently was ready to prove my assumption correct. She pounded shots at Barthel, hard and heavy body blows and knocked her down in the second set 6-2. The match really was looking like a pair of boxers, one using finesse, the other a power puncher, somehow going toe-to-toe.
On Center Court, Sam Querrey, the American wild card, was preparing to face off against the number three seed from Great Britain, Andy Murray, last year’s winner and thanks to his runner-up spot at Wimbledon and then his Olympic Gold against Roger Federer (a replay of the Wimbledon final), a man on a mission to shatter the glass ceiling keeping him from the rare air of the top three ranking in the world and Grand Slam glory.
As I mentioned while covering Querrey’s previous match, he’s got skill and form to spare but he hasn’t found the intangible that will take him to the next level consistently. While watching the first set of his match against Murray, I found myself comparing him to one of the competing interns on that season of the medical drama House, when Dr. House was trying to pick a new diagnostic team. A host of talent and knowledgeable doctors and specialist raced and clawed their way through challenges to land a spot and Querrey’s one of those in the hunt in tennis, but Murray, well, he’s a bit like Foreman (Omar Epps), a former team player who hangs around, but everyone knows he’s just not quite ready to take over for House (ever). Of course, he can out-diagnose any pesky intern, any day of the week.
And like a classic episode of House, it’s only a matter of time before the intern falls.
Kvitova has to grind it out in the third set because Barthel has the nerve to stand in the center of the ring and trade punches with her. They go back and forth and there’s something surprising about Barthel’s tenacity, her pesky spirit that gains depth as the match goes on.
But she slips up on her way to a possible tiebreak, losing the third set 7-5, and sadly the match. Has Kvitova gotten herself on track though?
Unforced errors kill Querrey (6-2, 6-4). All that time I spent coming up with the House analogy, Querrey was guessing and guessing wrong. If there really had been a patient on the table, they would have died repeatedly and their next of kin would have earned millions in medical malpractice.
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