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Bausch & Lomb: She Was a Close Friend

A part of me was saddened, but not surprised, at the announcement nearly two weeks ago that the MPS Group Championships will no longer call the First Coast home. From 1998 until 2008, I attended what was the Bausch & Lomb Championships. When the decision was made following the 2008 tournament to find another title sponsor and move the location somewhere other than Amelia Island Plantation, my heart sank.

It was almost like I was forced to move from my childhood home to a house that did not seem right. Amelia Island Plantation, the long-time home of the Bausch & Lomb, was that childhood home with nicks in the doorway from where you ran into it playing catch or with the height measurements etched into the hallway closet with your heights and the year they were taken.

For the last two years, the MPS Group was held out at Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach. It never felt perfect to me the way Amelia Island did. I welcomed the MPS Group with open arms, but it did not have the warm embrace I received with the Bausch & Lomb. But, with no more professional women’s tennis on the First Coast, I thought it would be fitting to think back on the memories the WTA Tour provided me.

Here are my five best memories I shared with my friend, the Bausch & Lomb – because that is the only name I have ever called her.

5. Witnessing first-hand how loud and rude Frenchwoman Mary Pierce was. When I saw her play at Amelia Island, Pierce, winner of the 1998 Bausch & Lomb, was nearing her mid-20s and in the prime of her career. Even though, during her career, she won two majors – an Australian and French, she had the on-court attitude of a teenage Roger Federer. Pierce’s style of tennis – commanding and intimidating – helped bring in the women’s power game. Pierce taught me that childish antics on the court make you look foolish. During my high school tennis days, I tried my best to be the antithesis of Pierce.

4. At Amelia Island, it was incredible watching top-20 players in the world warming up on the practice courts like it was just another day at work. Occasionally, I would wander from my seat to see if I could catch any tennis stars on the green clay courts. One day, in particular, I sat and watched then up-and-comer Elena Dementieva, Olympic singles gold medalist in 2008, hit with her coach for 45 minutes. It truly felt like 45 hours. After a few minutes, she realized I was the only person taking in her practice session. To this day, I am positive Dementieva, the 2003 Bausch & Lomb champion, winked in my general direction. If not, it’s my memory, and nobody is changing it. I still catch myself rooting for her on television.

3. Years ago, a few tennis friends of mine, who were accustomed to performing the scorekeeping task, invited me up in what seemed like a VIP section. It was practically a card table with a blue sheet tossed over it. Thinking I was somebody, I sat quietly watching match after match for two days straight. Into the evening on the second day, I noticed a larger individual standing behind me – accompanied with the smell of perfume. It was American tennis star Lindsay Davenport. In my head, I was calm and collected as I politely offered her my chair. She kindly declined, and, for the rest of the evening match, I could not focus on the tiny, yellow ball. I said nothing else to her. Davenport is one of the most beloved tennis players to ever step foot on Amelia Island Plantation. It is probably one of the reasons she won three singles and two doubles titles at Amelia.

2. The first year I became acquainted with the Bausch & Lomb, 1998, was the year of Anna Kournikova. She was the talk in women’s tennis. Watching Kournikova play, it was evident she had talent. In the fourth round at Amelia that year, the 16-year-old Kournikova lost to Davenport. To this day, I have never seen anyone play with longer hair than Kournikova’s blonde mane. Except for Venus and Serena Williams, at Amelia Island, Kournikova packed the stands like no other player was capable of doing.

1. Sitting alongside my parents and grandfather at the Bausch & Lomb, our seats every year were courtside behind the chair umpire. It was extremely close to the action. You could almost see the beads of sweat on the players’ foreheads. One year, tennis legend Martina Navratilova entered in the doubles draw on what could have been deemed a farewell tour. In the middle of a Martina doubles match, the ball clipped the line, Martina’s side lost the point and she was infuriated that the clip shot was not called out. The entire crowd began to boo when Martina started verbally attacking the umpire. Well, my grandfather was one of the fans booing at Martina. For whatever reason, having seen my grandfather booing passionately – he is a native New Yorker, Martina singled him out quickly. She pointed at him and told him to shut up. Then, everyone continued with the boos – especially my grandfather. For four points, my grandfather clapped whenever Martina lost a point. On the next turnover, Martina apologized personally to my grandfather for what she had said. Following the match, Martina was extremely personable and talked to the four of us for some time. Needless to say, we left Amelia Island that night even bigger fans of Martina Navratilova.

The Bausch & Lomb – I will refuse to call it anything else as long as I live – every April was my most looked-forward-to sporting event on the First Coast. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of each tournament I attended. It is a shame children of today won’t be able to see women’s professional tennis here – for the time being. They will never get to know or share memories with the friend I knew for over a decade.

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Richard Miller is a national broadcaster for Jacksonville Jaguars’ home games on Sporting News Radio.

Additionally, he can be heard on ABC 1320 WBOB in Jacksonville and 103.7 FM at the Jacksonville Beaches at 5:45 p.m. on Wednesdays with The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show. Richard also hosts Inside the Game every Saturday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on WBOB.

Currently, Richard is writing David Lamm’s biography entitled Lamm at Large: The David Lamm Story, which will be available in 2010.

Follow Richard’s daily blog on The Jacksonville Observer and his Twitter @MillerOnSports.

You can e-mail Richard at Richard.Miller@jaxobserver.com.

3 Responses »

  1. I have just as many fond memories. I could always expect to see the Wayne and Dolores Weaver at the Saturday buffet for box holders. What a meal! The shade was tremendous and the play intimate. There will never be another Amelia Tennis event like Baush-Lomb.

    My number one memory will actually be the box seat parking manager yelling, "Box Seats!" We fed him well, he parked us well.

    Thanks for the memories Poppi!

  2. One thing that I appreciated about the Bausch-Lomb was being able to bring food and drink into the box seat area. The only other place that I know you can do that is the Chicago Cubs baseball field. Even though they allowed food, I still believe that they sold tons of food and drink. Shame on stadiums that do not allow this practice.