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BMS’ Lawyer fuels passion as a tennis fan

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 10, 2020 at 4:00 PM

BRISTOL — Chris Lawyer works as communications manager at Bristol Motor Speedway, but as a fan, you’re as likely to see him at the tennis courts as you are at a race track.

A true enthusiast, he has been to four U.S. Opens and one Wimbledon tournament when he studied abroad as an Ole Miss student in 2011. His next bucket-list item is going to the French Open in September, rescheduled one week after the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol.

While Lawyer has also attended the Fed Cup, the Davis Cup and his hometown Winston-Salem Open, his best fan experience belongs to Indian Wells — which he attended while working for NHRA and living in Southern California.

“To me, the fan experience at Indian Wells is second to none,” he said. “Indian Wells is a tier below the Grand Slams and might not get the recognition, but it’s an incredible atmosphere. You’re out in the California desert and it’s just the value you get there. In one day, I paid 25 bucks and saw Li Na, who had just won the Australian Open, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal.

“At a Grand Slam, you might see one or two of those players. You get to see them up close at Indian Wells more than you do at the majors. You feel like you’re in the L.A. area, but not at the same time, over in the Coachella Valley. It wasn’t a bucket-list item when I went there, but if you’re a tennis fan, it’s one you have to go to.”

As far as an all-encompassing event, there’s nothing like Wimbledon. Lawyer made sure to experience as much of the All-England Club as he could. He got in line at 3 a.m. to get tickets to the No. 2 court. He spoke to fans from different countries while in line and heard their memories of past tournaments.

He also partook of the strawberries and cream and the other traditional staples to have the true Wimbledon experience.

IN THE SWING OF THINGS

Lawyer became a tennis fan at a young age, watching the end of the Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi rivalry. However, it was Roger Federer who turned him into a turn tennis fanatic.

“I remember watching Roger Federer win his first Wimbledon title and even though I was young, I thought that guy was special with the way he plays,” Lawyer said. “He just made it look easy. I grew up playing tennis in high school and playing intramurals in college. Just watching him, he makes it fun. To me he’s the perfect example of when people say that athletes are artists. His paint brush is his tennis racket.”

Lawyer saw Federer win a second-round match at Indian Wells. While the match wasn’t competitive, Lawyer describes himself as being in a trance watching his sporting hero. Over the years, he’s also gained a ton of respect for Federer’s greatest rival.

“I respect Rafael Nadal greatly, but he’s more the bull in the china shop,” Lawyer said. “He looks like he’s about to pass out after every single shot. That’s what makes him the bull or the matador as he likes to call himself. It was really cool watching Federer, Nadal and the Williams sisters growing up.”

He has seen Nadal win two U.S. Opens and Novak Djokovic win one. On the women’s side, he has seen two U.S. Open women’s finals with Serena Williams, although she lost both times.

Lawyer calls the 2019 U.S. Open men’s final where Nadal defeated Daniil Medvedev in a five-set marathon that lasted nearly five hours the best match he’s ever attended.

While he’s more of a singles fan, some of his best personal experiences came with the top doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan. He watched them twice in Davis Cup competition in his hometown, but gained a greater appreciation by working with them.

“When I was a senior in college, I interned at the tennis tournament in Memphis,” he said. “I was in the media relations room and wrote website articles. I interviewed the Bryan brothers and listened to their story. They are just as special to the tennis world, although your casual fan tends to forget about doubles.

“They have a great skill set. You look at the singles players and it doesn’t always translate to doubles. But that interaction with the Bryan brothers showed me that athletes are people, too. They were just down to earth and they were doing their job to the best of their abilities.”

STAYING ON THE COURT

Lawyer sees similarities in the top tennis players and the drivers he deals with in NASCAR. By in large, most appreciate the format they have to share with fans.

“The positive is most of these people realize they’re in a good position and their work makes people happy,” he said. “They thrive in that and their work is on a national or international scale. I think they don’t take it for granted. Whether it’s the race car drivers or tennis players, you see through their foundations they’re taking advantage of the opportunities — and that’s good to see.”

Lawyer played soccer as a youth before joining the high school tennis team at Bishop McGuinness High School in high school. He became the No. 1 player his senior season. He continues to play, most times at the Johnson City Country Club with former ETSU player Ana Gerbasi.

“Any chance to hit the tennis ball, I will do it,” he said. “I grew up hitting the ball against my wall of my parents’ garage and dreaming of winning Wimbledon when I was a kid. Obviously, I wasn’t quite as talented to achieve that. But it made me invest in these players who are good enough to do that. When they would win majors, I felt like I was along for the ride.”

Staying active in the sport has given him an appreciation of how players must adapt. His own game has changed over the years. His backhand gave him an advantage as a teenager, while his forehand has become the strength of his game today.

What hasn’t changed is his fondness for players who show great power with their return games.

“In high school, I was 100 percent a baseliner. I didn’t like going to the net,” he said. “My goal was just to bash the ball as hard as I could. You see some players who can do that, but I don’t have the most spin on my tennis ball. You see some players like Sharapova on the women’s side who did that and Dominic Theim on the men’s side. I appreciate those kinds of players.”

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