The long-awaited WTA (Women's Tennis Association) 250 Tallinn Open tournament gets underway this weekend, with qualifying matches starting on Saturday. Organizer Riho Kallus and Alfred Värnik, who is responsible for managing the volunteers during the tournament, discussed the preparations on ETV's morning show "Terevisioon."
"For the last three or four days, I've been working from about eight in the morning until one at night, getting things ready for the tournament, dealing with the players arriving at the airport at night or early in the morning. We've really had our hands full every day from morning till night," Värnik admitted.
"I've organized quite a few different tennis tournaments, Fed Cups and Davis Cups, but the scale and size of the WTA tournament is something else," said Kallus. "Something like 700 people are involved in the whole process, it's completely different."
"I've got 120 volunteers, not counting the ball girls and ball boys, of whom there are 70. I trained and taught all of them," said Värnik.
"Most of these jobs are pretty straightforward and you can learn how to do them in five minutes, but some, like accreditation, are a bit more complicated. The logistics manager, who does all the transport, for example, is also a volunteer. Some things are complicated, some are not, but without the volunteers this tournament wouldn't be possible," Värnik said.
"We always have volunteers present at (Tallinn) airport. We have a separate WTA desk there, where (the players) are met, and within about ten minutes of their landing time, a car is expected to be ready to take them to either the hotel or the (tennis) center," Värnik explained. "The cars used during our tournament are Porsches. They have sent their own drivers and cars to drive the players around for the whole tournament."
According to Kallus, the demand to become a ball boy or ball girl during the tournament was huge. Due to the high level of responsibility required in the role, training for those who were selected began as far back as June, he said. "A few days ago, Anett (Estonia's top tennis player, WTA No.3 Anett Kontaveit - ed) had a meeting with a ball girl who didn't actually make it to the tournament. It's not that easy," admitted Kallus. "Anett talked about how she herself once enjoyed being a ball girl. Usually, these good ball boys and girls are good tennis players themselves. You have to have very good reactions, and be disciplined and patient, you can't move around. Matches can be very long, they do rotate (ball boys and ball girls), but it's a real challenge for the kids."
The tournament organizers also have also gained a whole new level of knowledge when it comes to stringing tennis rackets. "We've got a very important man here, Mark, who is the president of the European Racket Stringers Association and knows absolutely everything about racket stringing. He has also brought a special French stringing machine, of which there are only a dozen in the world," said Kallus.
"He told us a story about how it rained for five days at Wimbledon and Roger Federer's racquets had to be re-strung every day. Players at that level have maybe 12 rackets and they use a natural type of string, which changes with the weather and humidity, so, even if you can't play, the racquets still get re-strung. So, for five days in a row 12 rackets were re-strung. At the highest level, things are a bit different."
"Yes, stringing at the top level is a whole other world, it's surreal," agreed Värnik.
However, thanks to the tournament being held in Tallinn, Estonians can now learn from the best in the world. "We had our own local stringing expert, an Estonian boy, who did some video training at the start, so they could see if he was up to standard. Mark said he only made a few mistakes, so he came (to Estonia) three days earlier and trained him. So, this Estonian boy is the only one who made it into the tournament team as a stringing expert," said Kallus.
"I would dare to sat, that the level of our Tallinn tournament is very high," Kallus said. "We've got 11 top seeds in the qualifying round. Usually, that's more or less as strong as the main draw for a tournament of this level. So, the action starts tomorrow!"
The Tallinn WTA 250 Open begins with the qualifying rounds on Saturday, September 24 at the FORUS Tennis Center in Tondi. Entry is free for under-18s. More information about ticketing can be found here.
Editor: Michael Cole