Thursday, April 6, 2017

The dream ain't over (for Roger or for me)

If anyone would have said four months ago that Roger would come back on tour and win the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, would anyone in their right mind have believed it?  I know I certainly wouldn't.  I would have said yeah, wishful thinking.  And yet here we are, with the three biggest tournaments of the year completed so far, and Roger has won every single one of them!  I know the last half of last year was difficult, for him and for his fans.  I have to admit that while part of me was thinking it would be good for him to take the time off, the other part was thinking that it would also be good for me to get used to being without him.  And both of those things are true.  But at the same time he has emphatically showed us that he ain't done yet!

What the rest of the year will hold for his tennis, who can tell.  We've always known Roger is very wise with his scheduling, and he is continuing to do so in the next couple months, not planning to play on clay until at least the French Open, if that.  Of course grass is a huge priority for him, as well as the hard court season after that.  Will he be able to produce the type of tennis that has thrilled us for the first three months of the year?  That is yet to be determined.  But regardless, he has put himself in a great position and has brought his fans and himself great happiness.

In the time off he's taking during the clay season he's not just going on vacation, however.  On April 10th he will be playing a match against Andy Murray in Zurich to raise money for his foundation, which has been planned for quite a while.  To be honest I had momentarily forgotten about that match during the Miami matches, thinking we probably wouldn't be seeing him for a while, so I was very pleased to see Tennis Channel would be showing this match live.  

What I didn't anticipate, however, was that Roger would be coming to Seattle, 90 miles south of where I live, to play another match for Africa, this time with Bill Gates as a contributor both financially and also on court in doubles with Roger!  I could hardly contain my excitement when I heard about it, and how much more so when I bought tickets for the 2nd row!  And I thought I wouldn't get to see him live again until at least next year at Indian Wells.  How lucky am I?

The fact that Roger gives not just his money but also his time for one of his big passions, helping less fortunate children in Africa and other areas, is another part of what makes him so loved by so many.  Flying back over to the U.S. when he was just here for a month is no small thing, and it says so much about who he is as a generous, giving person.

So even though I usually don't look forward to the clay season, and all the more with Roger not playing, there is still much to look forward to in the next few weeks before we are graced with his presence again on the tour.  


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

My incredible experiences volunteering at Indian Wells

I just returned from volunteering for the third year at the Indian Wells tennis tournament in VIP transportation.  Each year has been different and each one has had some great experiences, but this year some incredible dreams came true that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

I told the person in charge of our department even before I got there that I would love to be one of the group to go pick up the Federer clan at the private airport, but didn't know if it would actually happen.  It turned out I was working a shift at the time they came in and I nervously awaited the decision of whether I would be one of the chosen ones.  Thankfully my desire was honored and I got to go!  When we (four suburbans and drivers) got to the airport it was extremely windy and we were slightly concerned.  Eventually they landed, however, and we drove our vehicles over by the plane as Roger was walking down the steps.  I quickly got out and went over to him and he thanked us all for coming and shook our hands.  I then had a moment with him by myself as he waited for his family to come out.  I told him congratulations on Australia and that I was still so excited and he said thanks, he was too.  The rest of the family emerged then and it was fun to see the kids in person.  As all the luggage was being loaded in the vehicles and car seats strapped in, I eventually ended up standing by his mom, Lynnette.  At that point Roger came up to Lynnette and me and said he felt like he was going to throw up on the plane (I only share that because he also told it to journalists).  The ride was so bumpy and it had only been a quick 30 minute flight from LA, which made it all the worse.  I mean, how many people can say that Roger Federer told them he thought he was going to throw up? 😁

Mirka also thanked me for coming and shook hands with me.  I told her it was so great to see her and she thanked me and smiled.  I would have loved to talk with her more but she ended up riding in another vehicle with three of the kids.

Eventually everything was loaded, the kids were settled in, and Roger got into a vehicle with one of his girls.  I told Lynnette they could ride with me, so she got in the back and Robert (or Robbie, as she calls him) in the front.  She looked over at the vehicle Roger was in and said that he didn't look very good, looked very white.  Poor guy!  We then had a half an hour drive to the house they were staying at near the site.  It was lovely to have the opportunity to just chat with his parents!  We talked about me having twins, where I'm from, weather there and where they live, a bit about Australia, how they wanted to play golf while they were in CA (Robert jokingly said they were there for the golf, not the tennis πŸ˜€).  I also took the opportunity to tell them what a great job they had done raising their son.  They kind of brushed it off, saying you never knew how kids would turn out, but I said I didn't agree and that a lot of it came from the influence of the parents.  It was so great to get to spend that time with them; I felt like friends by the time it was done.

When we got to the house, in a gated community neighborhood, I asked Roger how he was feeling and he said much better.  I said good, I was hoping he wasn't getting sick and he said no, no.  After everything was unloaded Roger thanked us once again and I told him I had enjoyed talking with his parent, and he said good.  It was a wonderful experience all around and I felt incredibly blessed to have that time to talk personally with Roger, even though just in little bits and pieces, to see his family close up, and to spend that time with his parents.  I was glowing for a long time after!

Over the course of the tournament I drove several people who I enjoyed talking with, such as Kyle Edmund's coach, Shelby Rogers' coach, Taylor Fritz's wife, baby and mother-in-law, which was really fun, Jan Struff, Giles Muller, plus many others.  Some of the other notable experiences unrelated to matches was seeing Tommy Haas at a concession stand where we were both using our credential credits to buy a salad (I was surprised he had to go do that himself as the TD).  While we were standing waiting for them I went over and talked with him and we chatted about several things, including what could be added to make things cooler for the fans and predictions for the Roger/Rafa match (he gave Rafa the slight edge - glad he was wrong!).  It was really fun to get a chance to talk with him!  I also got a quick hug from Robbie Koenig as he was running by, which was special, and he had seen some of my twitter posts.

I didn't watch a lot of Roger's practices this year since the crowds were horrendous, and after I had already had the opportunity to interact with him personally I didn't feel so desperate to have to see him up close.  Often, though, I would try to catch a bit of practice and then go out by the grassy field where the players enter and exit, but in the credential section so I could see him closer up.  One of these times I was actually on shift but had taken a quick break after one of my drives to go get some ice cream.  He was coming out at that time so I stood there for a bit watching.  It just so happened that a video was being filmed at the time, which I didn't realize, and when I watched it later I found that I was in the video (at around 40 seconds in).  

One of my twitter friends kindly took a snapshot of the part I was in, which I absolutely love because it looks like Roger was looking right at me and giving me a thumbs up (even though that wasn't really the case, but I'll pretend he was 😊).

Now onto the tennis matches.  As volunteers we are able to go into the lower bowl in stadium 1 until the final Friday.  This year they limited the areas volunteers were supposed to sit in, but I often went down further anyway since there were always some empty seats close to the bottom (I know, I'm being a rebel, but sometimes you just have to break the rules! πŸ˜ƒ).  Most of Roger's matches I was behind the chair umpire on one side or another, except for the Rafa match when I was kitty-corner on one end.  Watching Roger play close up is an incredible experience.  The way he moves on court so quickly yet so gracefully, the way he hits the ball with his whole body, plus just being able to watch him between points and his reactions.  Often I would not really be watching the ball because I just wanted to watch him.

Each match had amazing shots and was a unique experience.  In his match against Steve Johnson I was up a little ways from his box and after the match I went down farther to take some pictures.  His dad was standing there and I reminded him that I had driven him from the airport.  We chatted a bit about him losing his glasses and then I asked him if I could get a picture with him.  It turned out so well and I was really excited to have it.  He was very sweet!

It was disappointing that Roger didn't end up playing the match against Kyrgois, with Nick being sick, because it surely would have been a great match and I feel Roger would have won, with the way he was playing.  However, he wanted to come out and speak to the crowd and the interview he gave was so much fun, including the song by the One Handed Backhand Boys:

As he moved further into the tournament to the point where volunteers had to purchase tickets, I simply couldn't help myself from spending much more money than I had planned on.  Once you have experienced the close-up matches it's very difficult to go back to the nosebleed seats.  So when he won the semifinal I once again rushed to the ticket booth and bought a ticket in the lower bowl for the final, though close up to the top.  However, when I went in for the women's final I went ahead and went far down and sat in the 3rd row the whole match.  The match was a really good one and I was very happy for Elena Vesnina.  

I was hoping I would be able to stay down low for the men's final.  Eventually someone came who had the ticket for the seat I had been in, but there were several seats in row 2 that hadn't been occupied the whole time, so I took a chance and climbed over the seat and ended up getting one of the cushy ones, compared to the hard ones I had been sitting in, that had a cooler underneath with several bottles of cold water (much appreciated on such a hot day).  I felt incredibly spoiled!  I was a row behind Stan's team so many of the people around me were cheering for Stan, but I went ahead and yelled for Roger anyway.  

Seeing him play that level of tennis against such a tough opponent from so close was an absolute thrill, and then to have him win was such a joyous experience!  Being there for the trophy ceremony and all the pictures and interviews after, I just couldn't stop grinning.  I would have liked to get an autograph (there were so many people even though I was so close) or another picture with him, since mine is two years old, but I mustn't get greedy and keep wanting more and more.  


Thanks for reading such a long post, but I wanted to share some of these special moments.  The things I got to experience were ones that most Federer fans would give anything to have, and I feel extremely grateful and blessed.  They will be in my heart for the rest of my life.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sorrow turned to Joy as Roger Federer wins his 18th Major

As I write my first post in almost a year I have the Federer-Berdych 3rd round match running in the background.  The magical run at this year's Australian Open can't be taken lightly and I plan to bask in it as long as possible.  But before talking about the joys we have experienced this month of January, ending with magical #18, lets review 2016, as difficult as it was.

After last year's semifinal loss in Australia there was the shocking announcement that Roger had had surgery on his knee.  

I want to inform you that yesterday I underwent arthroscopic surgery on my knee. I injured my knee the day after the semi-finals in Australia. After getting tests done when I returned home, it was determined that I had torn my meniscus. I apologize to my friends in Rotterdam and Dubai, as I was very much looking forward to playing those events. While this is an unfortunate setback, I am encouraged and grateful that my doctor said the procedure was a success. I am looking forward to attacking the rehabilitation process this afternoon with my team and working hard to get back out on tour as soon as possible. Thanks for all your incredible support. I will check in with all of you soon.

Then he gave this creative rundown of his experience:

 After the initial shock wore off that he had been required to have the first surgery of his career, my first thought was that meant that he likely wouldn't be coming to "my" tournament, Indian Wells, where I volunteer.  That was a bitter disappointment but I manged to survive it, still with some special memories.  Then followed several months of struggles in tournaments he tried to play, the withdrawl from the French Open, which meant missing his first grand slam in many, many years.  Then, of course his run to the semis at Wimbledon with a chance to win that match to get to the final, the fall, the disappointment.  But the biggest shock came with this announcement:

Dear Fans,
I’m extremely disappointed to announce that I will not be able to represent Switzerland at the Olympic Games in Rio and that I will also miss the remainder of the season. Considering all options after consulting with my doctors and my team, I have made the very difficult decision to call an end to my 2016 season as I need more extensive rehabilitation following my knee surgery earlier this year. The doctors advised that if I want to play on the ATP World Tour injury free for another few years, as I intend to do, I must give both my knee and body the proper time to fully recover. It is tough to miss the rest of the year. However, the silver lining is that this experience has made me realize how lucky I have been throughout my career with very few injuries. The love I have for tennis, the competition, tournaments and of course you, the fans remains intact. I am as motivated as ever and plan to put all my energy towards coming back strong, healthy and in shape to play attacking tennis in 2017.
Thanks for your continued support.

When that message appeared on his Facebook page and quickly spread, there was an almost audible moan of pain that reverberated amongst most of the tennis world.  This was followed by depression for all Federer fans that continued in varying degrees throughout the remainder of 2016.  As I worked through my depression, though, it became more and more evident, partly from what he was saying himself and partly from just knowing this in my heart, that he NEEDED this break and that it was going to pay off in the end if we could survive the long months.   

Time did eventually pass and the pain became a bit less stark and before we knew it full anticipation of the comeback was in force.  Hopman Cup was a joyous experience - no stress or pressure to have to win matches, just getting back to match play, plus the fun of mixed doubles with partner Belinda Bencic.  Federer fans were on cloud 9 having their man back.

When the draw came out in Melbourne there was a bit of a relief that the first two rounds would be qualifiers, but then the reality of what being the 17th seed really meant - potentially five top 10 players in a row.  It seemed impossible that he could win, so I tried to have the attitude of enjoying each match.  However, as each match went by and he played better and better, first beating Berdych in the 3rd round in scintillating fashion, then a scary 5-setter against Nishikori, at which point anticipated quarterfinal opponent Murray had shockingly lost to big brother Zverev, who served and volleyed him right out of the tournament.  With beautiful play by Roger to beat Mischa, all of a sudden he was into the semifinal and it was impossible not to think of the possibilities.  

The semifinal against Stan Wawrinka was the worst for me.  I had to watch it on a recording in the morning as I couldn't stay up all night on a work night.  After winning the first two sets he then went on to lose the next two, sending me into a panic, since I hadn't looked at the results.  At the end of that match I was emotionally exhausted because somehow I had gone from the point of just enjoying every match to really wanting him to win the whole thing.  The fact that this was suddenly a possibility was a beautiful surprise, but while I should have been rejoicing I found myself almost depressed once it was confirmed his opponent was to be none other than Rafael Nadal.  What for some was the dream final was to me the dread final.  I couldn't stand the thought of having him lose to the man who has given him so many heartbreaking losses over the years.  Though I like Rafa a lot better than I used to after meeting him last year and him giving European kisses to my friend and me, those feelings don't extend to him beating my guy or getting close to his GS record!

I was actually more calm during the final than I was in the semi - until the first half of the 5th set that is, when I had to actually just glance at the match while reading a novel to save my heart.  But we all know what happened - the break back, another break, the stressful last service game, and finally the absolute elation of realizing he had actually done it - he had won his 18th major!

So fellow Fed fans, we survived a difficult 2016, 6 months straight of which was Roger-less. And do you know what?  The pain has been all worth it!  Look at the joy on his face in the above picture.  Seeing what he is capable of doing after giving his body and mind the rest it needed gives me great hope for what will hopefully be at least a couple more years of watching this amazing man continue to achieve his dreams and delight his fans.  And when eventually time does run out, we will have these completely incredible memories of this absolutely joyful experience and how much it means to him.