Post #109: Being There


I ventured up to Montreal last week to catch the third round of the Roger’s Cup tennis tournament. The Roger’s Cup is part of the Emirates Airlines U.S. Open Series and an ATP Masters 1000 tournament, which basically is a fancy way of saying that it’s a big time event at which players stand to earn serious prize money and ranking points and therefore attracts the best players in the world. It’s also only two hours from my house, which makes me having never gone seem really stupid. Montreal and Toronto both host Roger’s Cup tournaments simultaneously and the genders alternate every year. This year the men were in Montreal.

When I was a kid living in Indianapolis, there was a big tennis tournament downtown called the RCA Hardcourts that attracted marquee talent and I saw Courier, Martin, and Sampras back in the day, but not only has it been many many years since I’ve seen pro tennis in the flesh, I am a far bigger and more astute fan of the game now. I’m also writing a novel that’s largely about tennis, so there was a minor research component to the trip.

I bought tickets for both the day and night sessions and all told I saw nearly six full matches and watched close to ten consecutive hours of tennis. And in one day I saw Rafael Nadal, Jerzy Janowicz, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro, Milos Raonic, Laender Paes, and Novak Djokovic. Damn.

Here, in no particular order, are some observations on the day.

1. Even from a couple hundred feet away, you can see the intensity burning off of Nadal like steam off blacktop after summer rain.

2. Murray, great a player as he is, just ain’t that handsome. Trust me, I saw him play doubles from twenty feet away.

3. Tennis, though international, is seriously white. I saw players from all over the world, but India’s Leander Paes was the only player I saw the whole day with skin darker than a vanilla latte.

4. Beware the wrist watch tan! Never saw it coming.

5. I was foolish to think I’d be the only one there with a Roger Federer hat. They were as common as Yankees caps in the Bronx.

6. Quebecians seem not to get that more urinals would lead to shorter bathroom lines. They also seem not to get that walking faster will get you there quicker.

7. You have never seen anybody hit something as hard as Janowicz and Raonic hit their first serves. It looks fast on television, I know, though that idea of speed you get from TV does sparse justice to the cannons that these guys actually fire.

8. #7 makes you, then, fully appreciate how superhuman a top player’s reflexes and reaction time really are. Before watching for the day, I’d thought that the raw power, and seeing said power in the flesh, would be the most impressive physical thing on display. Wrong. The reflexes and timing are insane and absolutely shocked me.

9. Even watching a top player practicing is thrilling. I stood and watched Almagro for a while. (photo below) You’re ten feet away and they just pound the ball like a crazed metronome. Almagro is intense by nature, it seems, but was particularly angry seeming while I and others watched him practice. Nothing even in the vicinity of a grin out of this guy.









10. Canadians are very cool for letting you bring your own food and drink into the stadium. A little old French Canadian couple in front of me during the day session had a whole picnic lunch they slowly devoured during the Nadal/Janowicz match.

11. American tennis is officially dead. By the third round, there was not a single American left in the tournament. Nor is there currently an American in the world’s top twenty. This is bad.

12. As cool as watching the marquee matches on center court is, it’s all about the outer courts. You’re basically court side and can even better appreciate the pace of the game and the athleticism of its practitioners. When I say you’re court side I’m not kidding. Here’s the coin toss moment before the Andy Murray/Colin Fleming VS. Leander Paes/Stepanek match. I took it from my seat with only a slight zoom.








13. In doubles, rather than play a win-by-two style Deuce, in the event of Deuce, they play a single point to decide the game in which the receiving team gets to decide who receives. This speeds up play.

14. The players carry around their own towels. On TV, it just looks like the ball kids are feeding the players towels from a massive house stash, but actually the players use the same two towels throughout the match and carry them back to their chairs during breaks, and then to the opposite end during changeovers.

15. Many players change their shirts during matches, though doubles great Daniel Nestor was the only one I saw who changed into a different shirt.

16. If you tilt the camera right, you can actually put yourself in the same frame as Nadal doing his post match interview with Pam Shriver. I’m the Mount Rushmore like face on the left; Nadal is the tiny, navy blue clad fellow on the court to the bottom right.









17. Those oversized autograph balls are way overpriced.

18. The gift shop swag is pretty crappy, and there’s basically nothing for kids.

19. There’s a lot of in and out during matches on the spectators parts. More, it seemed to me, than at other kinds of sporting events. I attribute this to the fact that there’s many matches happening simultaneously, and you can go see whatever you want at any time.

20. Because of #19, it can feel like you’re always missing something and wishing you could be two places at once. You often hear distant applause and wonder what you’re missing.

21. No line at the Canadian/US Border either coming or going = priceless.

22. I think next time I’ll still catch two consecutive sessions, though watch an evening session, stay overnight, and then the next day’s afternoon session.

23. It cost me around $200 to watch ten hours of elite level sport. If you consider that it would take four basket ball games to equal that quantity, the price seems pretty fair.

24. Though I was thrilled to see so many top players in person, Nadal, I have to say, inspired the day’s biggest man crush. Wow. I took a photo of him shirtless after the match for my wife. But I kind of wanted it too.










25. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to bring along.


Post #62: Andy Murray Breaks Through


As my wife can testify, I’ve consumed massive quantities of tennis these past two weeks during the 2012 U.S. Open.  So much, in fact, that I’ve had loose volleys in my hair, top spin forehands stuck between my teeth, massive overheads clinging to my thighs, second serves out wide on the bottom of my shoe, rain delays in my back pocket, backhands down the line puffing out in my exhalations.  You get the point.  Last night’s men’s final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic was a war of attrition, both physical and mental, to match any grand slam final I’ve seen.  In terms of sheer energy and will expelled by the players, it’s up there with the 2008 Wimbledon Final and this years’s 2012 Australian Open Final.  The two players punished each other, a flinching contest on live television.  Though, as is often true in tennis, it was a mental battle above all.  The conditions were absurd.  Cool and with gusting winds that found both players serving cautiously and measuring their ground strokes like level tea spoons into cake batter. Even still, shots were frequently Mary Poppinsed over the baseline, or coasted out wide, seeming to lift off like they’d sprouted wings.  The match went to the player that was able to battle and then harness his own frustration, doubt, and will the most successfully, Scotland’s Andy Murray, making it not only Murray’s first grand slam victory (although he did win the gold medal at this summer’s London games), but making him the first Brit to win a major tennis tournament since the age of Napoleon.  Okay, not quite, but close.  It was the match of the tournament.  A fitting capstone to a triumphant two weeks of tennis in New York City.

As thrilling as the match was, it was Murray’s reaction to FINALLY winning a grand slam that sticks in my mind a day later.  It was, in a word, muted.  I’ve watched me some tennis over the years and I’ve never seen a tennis player celebrate a major victory will less overt fanfare.  I’m sure that Murray was thrilled–you’d have to be a robot not to be, and we know Murray’s not a robot because a robot would never have hair that bad–but it was kind of hard to perceive.  He more so seemed caught in a web of dazed relief, as if viewing his victory through a funhouse mirror. Or like he was afraid he’d slipped into a dream state and at any moment would wake with a runner-up trophy in his hand. Now, he’d just played five hours of brutal tennis against the best returner of his generation and was cramping visibly, so perhaps his body simply denied him the usual catharsis that we’re used to seeing, that we associate with those triumphant moments.  But even later at his post match press conference, if not for the giant silver trophy to his left, Murray almost looked like he’d just lost the match.  During the interview, he admitted that the dominant emotion he was experiencing was relief, citing the difficult conditions and the length of the long and grueling match.  He spoke about how the reality of it hadn’t yet sunk in, and how perhaps he was taking a cue from the perpetually staid demeanor of his new coach, Ivan Landl.  My favorite moment was when a reporter asked if he’d felt any exaltation since the victory, to which Murray replied, “I don’t know what that means.”  It was kind of a funny moment–a simple break down in vocabulary–but I like to pretend that he knew exactly what it meant and that he meant he just didn’t have access to that particular emotion.  As if exaltation was a place he wasn’t sure how one would get to, like say, Jupiter.

Regardless, my heart went out to the Scot.  Once the constant bridesmaid, he is runner up no more and though I enjoy the artistry of Serbian wonder boy Novak Djokovic, who is about as fun to watch as a tennis player gets, I was thrilled to see Murray pull it off.  Way to go Andy.  Now go celebrate.  Kiss your lovely girlfriend.  Fill that massive trophy with Dom and drink heavily.  And smile, goddammit.