Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The experiences of a volunteer at IW, and meeting Roger and Mirka

I'm home and getting back into the groove of normal life, so I am going to attempt to share some of the incredible experiences I had while volunteering at Indian Wells.

My friend and I got to the site the Saturday before play began to start our first shift as drivers in VIP Transportation.  We really didn't know what to expect.  We knew we would be driving some players, coaches, chair umpires, but that was about the extent of our knowledge.  We didn't know even what our perks were out of it, other than we didn't have to buy tickets until the final weekend.  We discovered in the orientation, run by the tournament director himself, that our benefits included having access to the lower portion of the stadium in several of the sections on the side the players boxes are on.  We would just flash our credentials and then we could go find any open seat starting at row E (not that I didn't sneak down a little lower when I could, mind you).  If the ticket holder came, we just went and found another seat.  Let me tell you, once you get to sit down there and watch the best of the best play close up, it's very difficult to go sit at the top of the stadium again!  
First match watching courtside - Monica Puig
One of the other perks we received from volunteering was on the days we worked we got $16 worth of credit for meals, which was very helpful.  One of my favorite parts, though, was that we had access to some of the regions that the average person can't go.  Though I couldn't get into the actual player area, I could see into it easily and could see them either doing exercises or just sitting and eating at tables in the player eating area (in fact, I got to see Roger Federer walk into the player eating area, see Juan Martin Del Potro for the first time, and give him a big hug).   
Roger and Delpo talking in the player area

It was interesting to watch the tournament build up, since we got there so early.  When we first got there a lot of the players weren't even there yet, and others were just starting to practice.  So over the next several days it all started to come alive, and that's when it really got fun.  Our transportation trailer was located in the player parking lot where those who drove themselves parked and where others were dropped off.  I would often stand outside the trailer just watching the view to see who would walk by.  Other times players, coaches, chair umpires would just walk into the trailer to ask for a ride.  For example, Martina Navratilova walked in one day, which is just a little surreal (I wasn't the next one up to drive, though, so someone else gave her a ride).  Often I would walk right past prominent players.  I saw Serena when she first came on site, watched her get out of her car and into a golf cart.  Many of them were so much better looking in person than on TV.  For example, I walked past Matosevic and he was actually quite handsome.  Stan Wawrinka looked great close up, as did Berdych.  There were so many I saw I can't even list them all.  I saw Sam Stosur so many times.  In the beginning I knew Federer wasn't even there yet, as he was playing the exo in NYC, so I had more freedom inside of not being uptight hoping I would see him; I just enjoyed seeing all the other players.  Once I knew he was there, then I was always on the lookout, probably a bit of a stalker.  :)

As far as my actual job, I worked eight 6 hour shifts over the two weeks.  We had a great trailer we would sit in waiting for our turn to drive, which was just a sign up list, so it was just random and by chance who we ended up driving.  I drove all different kinds of vehicles - suburbans, vans, SUVs, and had to get used to each one.  A lot of the time I was going to a hotel to pick someone up or drive them back.  I only did one airport run.  On that one, the slip they gave me said I was picking up Juan Martin and that was all it said, so I wasn't actually sure if it was Del Potro or not.  So I stood outside the airport with my BNP Paribas Open sign and suddenly I saw him come out.  I ran up and told him where I was while he went in to wait for his bags.  When he finally came out and I went up to talk to him, it felt absolutely crazy to go stand right next to him and just talk casually.  He is incredibly good looking in person.  I talked to him a bit while we were driving, asked him a couple questions, but then he started talking to the person he was with in Spanish.  The embarrassing part was when I got a bit lost and had to pull over and try to figure out where I was going.  I felt bad because I knew he was anxious to get to his hotel.

Some of the other notables I drove were Nick Kyrgios and team (Nick didn't talk to me at all - it was pretty early in the morning - though he did with some others), Pablo Andujar, who was very nice, Daniel Gimeno Traver a couple times (I'm not sure if he really even speaks English).  I think there's another player I'm missing, but I can't remember at the moment.  For me it was more fun to drive coaches, chair umpires, line judges, or just people who worked with the ATP/WTA because they tended to be much more talkative.  One of my very favorites was driving Kevin Anderson's coach.  We were waiting for a while for another person to show up, plus we got stuck in traffic, so we ended up having quite a bit of time.  We chatted about everything from Kevin's career, our kids, my tennis game, weather where each of us is from, etc.  I also drove Jelena Jankovic's coach right before she was going to play Sabine Lisicki, who he had also coached, so that was an interesting conversation.

The chair umpires and line judges were fun to talk to because they travel all around the world and work closely with all the players, so we had some great conversations.  I also drove some ATP officials.  One thing that was so cool to me was the reaction some of these people had when I brought up Roger's name.  These are people who work closely with him and know him both on and off the court.  When several of these people started talking about him, it's like their tone of voice would soften in admiration as they talked about what a great person he is on and off the court, how much he has brought to tennis, and how much the tennis world will lose when he retires.  It's one thing to hear this from people who are fans, but to hear it over and over from people who work closely not just with him, but with many other players, meant a lot to me and just confirmed all the more why he is so loved.

One of Roger's practices
He only practiced on site a couple times
Now to my most exciting moments - talking with different members of the Federer family.  I had hoped and actually prayed for a couple different things before the tournament started and during - that I would get a picture with Roger and that I would have the opportunity to talk with Mirka.  Both wishes were granted and I couldn't be more thrilled.  I had tried to "make" it happen to get a picture with Roger without success.  He is so surrounded by people it seemed almost impossible.  Without going into the whole story, we ended up being over by the player area at a time we normally wouldn't have been.  All of a sudden, there were Roger and Michael Lammer (who he played doubles with in the tournament) standing by themselves by a golf cart.  Now, it was specified during our orientation that when we are wearing our volunteer outfits we are not to go up to the players and ask for autographs or pictures.  However, I was dressed in normal clothes.  Technically I probably still shouldn't have asked for a picture there since I was in the privileged access section, but the way this all happened, it was if this was being set up specifically for me from above, so I just had to.  So I went running up to him and said "Roger, can I get a picture?"  He said sure, so I stood by him and started to do a selfie.  Instead he said that Michi could take it for us, so he snapped a few pictures with my phone.  Then Roger said we should make sure they turned out, which I thought was very sweet.  There were two that turned out really well.  Since I didn't want to take anymore of his time I said thank you so much and left.  Looking back I wish I had said that someday I would love to talk twins with him, since I also have a set of twins, just to see what he would have said.  But my heart was pounding so hard and I couldn't think straight.  It all happened fairly quickly, but the experience of looking right up into his face and have him look at me and talk to me was something that will always stay with me.  And looking at my picture makes me so happy!

Dream come true
As far as talking with Mirka, I had been given the hallway player access pass to go use the bathroom.  As I was coming out of the bathroom into the hallway I saw Tony Godsick carrying one of the twin girls and then his daughter with the other one.  I waved to one of them as they went out the door.  Then I looked and right beside me was Mirka.  She had a beautiful lacy white shirt on and looked just great.  I had already planned out what I would say to her if I should be so fortunate to get to talk to her.  So I touched her arm and said "Hey, I just wanted to tell you what a hero you are to me.  I have a set of twins, so I think you are just amazing traveling the world with two sets."  She said thank you very much, as we were walking along together, and then added that it was just nature that she had two sets of twins.  I said I know, but she is traveling the world with them.  She said thank you again, then turned to go the direction she was going where I didn't have access to.  I was so happy I had been able to tell her that; I hope it meant something to her too.  I also had a little conversation with Papa Federer and I helped him find his seat.  He was very sweet.  Then I smiled at Lynette, who smiled back at me.  Would have been fun to talk to her too.

Okay, this is getting really long, but I thought we were going to have to sit up in the higher area of the stadium for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  We did sit up there Friday and Saturday and after being so spoiled sitting down below, it was really rather frustrating with everything so cramped, and obviously the view just not the same.  On the day of the final, though, one of the friends we met in our trailer had gotten some free tickets with incredible seats by doing a favor for one of the CEOs.  As she was there by herself, she wanted us to sit by her.  We were happy to oblige!  Even though Roger lost, it was an amazing experience to get to sit so close where I could see every expression on his face when he walked to the back of the court and watch his spectacular movement as he played as hard as he could, fighting back to take the 2nd set after being down a break.  Let me tell you, the crowd went crazy when that happened!  The support of the crowd for him is always heartwarming.

So to sum if all up, I totally loved volunteering.  It really didn't even seem like work, and the experiences I had driving all different types of people (oh, the last person I drove was multiple grand slam champion Roy Emerson and his wife), having access to so many areas that the general public don't, and getting to sit way down in the stadium, was just wonderful.  I have so many great memories to look back on, and I hope to do it again next year.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Roger Federer back to winning ways in Dubai

After a much deserved month off from competitive play, Roger Federer is back on the courts in Dubai, rested, refreshed and playing his beautiful brand of tennis again.  He started out his first match a little rusty against Youzhny, but once he found his range he cruised through to his first win with no worries.  His match against Verdasco in the second round again started a little slow, going down a break as Verdasco looked to be dominant.  All of a sudden, though, everything seemed to click for him.  He not only broke back, but he went on to win 20 points in a row, closing out the set in supreme fashion.  

The way he was hitting the ball to me looked so clean, aggressive, dominant, and basically just amazing.  When Roger is in full form, playing with confidence, it would hard to find anyone who could beat him.  And most definitely there is no one on planet earth who has such a beautiful, graceful, free flowing game.  Simply a joy to watch.

I really enjoyed some of the pre-match commentary on Tennis Channel with former coach Paul Annacone and Tracy Austin.  It's always a pleasure to listen to Paul, and especially when he's talking about Roger, since he knows him so well and has a different perspective, having worked so closely with him.  He and Tracy were both talking about what a quality guy he is, and that what we hear about him and how he is off court, giving of his time, so friendly, etc., is absolutely true, and even more so.  Tracy said he goes out of his way to go up and talk to people, asking questions about their lives.  What a testimony for our #1 guy!

Roger will continue his quest of a record 7th Dubai title when he takes on Richard Gasquet in the quarterfinals.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Roger Federer's 2015 so far

I am way behind on posts for all that's been going on with Roger in the last couple months, mostly due to craziness in my own life, along with the multitudes of articles already being written about him.  But as it's a good way to air my own thoughts, it's time to get something down on paper.

I had a lot of high hopes going into Melbourne.  After his tremendously successful season in 2014, ending officially with the incredible victory in Davis Cup, he started his year in amazing fashion with his 1000th win, which just happened to coincide with his 83rd title in Brisbane.  It was a very happy moment for Roger and his fans, producing a great emotional high heading into the first grand slam of 2015.

His second round match in Melbourne ended up being more difficult than anticipated, losing the first set to Bolleli, who was playing some insane tennis and giving Roger almost no chances.  But as expected, Bolleli couldn't hold that level and it was cruise mode for the rest of the match.  When I heard that Chardy had lost his match to Seppi I was breathing easy, feeling the 3rd round was going to be a routine match, as Seppi has never had success at all against Roger.  Roger came out looking a little flat in the match, though, and just couldn't seem to find his "A" game.  The nine double faults, too many break point opportunities that he didn't take advantage of, and missing shots he would normally make showed that he just couldn't find his usual flow.  Losing the 2nd set in a tiebreak he should have won, letting a shot go that landed in that he could have put away, was incredibly disheartening.  When he won the 3rd set, though, I thought he had it figured out and would go on to a five set victory, but he still just wasn't finding that breakthrough.  The 4th set tiebreak again he should have won - up a minibreak, then losing it on a basic error.  But then on match point to have him let a shot go again that he could have gotten was just crazy (and discouraging).  

As I processed the disappointment I had to come to the conclusion that this win just wasn't meant to be.  He actually won more points in the match than Seppi did (probably from all the break point opportunities he didn't take), which is always a little strange, and the fact that he let two shots go that landed in that would have made a huge difference in the match was just too weird.  As sad as I still feel that he lost so early in a tournament I thought he had a good chance to win, and another opportunity for #18 missed, I have to go with this feeling that this is the way it was supposed to happen.

See, here's the thing.  He only had 8 days off during the off season.  His season was extended by Davis Cup, in which he was dealing with an injury, which had to be exhausting, then he did the whole travel thing to India and more matches (though I know he loved doing it and had so much fun), then hard practice in Dubai followed by his charity match in Switzerland with Stan, then quickly back to training hard after a few days off for Christmas.  He also threw in another tiring charity match against Hewitt right after his difficult title match against Raonic in Brisbane.  It can't help but catch up with him, regardless of his age.  He also has a very busy life between his lovely family who he spends a lot of time with, plus his many commitments with all his sponsor companies.  So whether he or anyone else would agree or not, I think he overextended a bit and it was just a bit too much to expect him to play seven difficult matches with a hard draw.

To be honest, I would rather have him lose early than end up losing to Nadal in the semis.  Even though Rafa has looked vulnerable so far, he tends to gain confidence as a tournament goes along, so to me it would be a nightmare to have another loss in the semis to him.  Better to have a longer rest time, which he so desperately needs, and come back fresh for Dubai before heading over for Indian Wells.  As long as he can stay healthy there is still so much to look forward to, so much to be encouraged about.  But for right now recuperating and taking care of his body is of utmost importance.  So while I'm still very disappointed in the loss, I'm trying to look at the positives and I will still be enjoying the tennis in Australia while thinking of the Federer family enjoying a wonderful vacation together, preparing to come back strong in another month.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The emotional week of Federer fans

And they've done it!  The elusive Davis Cup trophy is finally theirs after a masterclass performance by Roger Federer over substitute French player Richard Gasquet.  But allow me to regress for a just a moment.

Oh, the emotions of the last week as a Federer fan.  Last Sunday was one of deep disappointment as Roger had to withdraw from the final of the World Tour Finals after injuring his back against buddy Stan Wawrinka.  Then there was the little tiff between the two that should have stayed like that, just between the two.  Instead, thanks to many stupid media people, it became "huge" news.  Then there was the wondering whether Roger would even be able to play Davis Cup at all, as doctors worked on his back and he rested.  There was cautious optimism as he took to the practice court mid week, and again on Friday after a brilliant performance by Stan Wawrinka over Jo Wilfred Tsonga, but then disappointment again as Roger lost in straight sets to Gael Monfils.  Though Roger definitely improved as the match went on, it was obvious that once he got over the tentativeness from the back scare, that he just really hadn't practiced much on clay.  Then Saturday came with the news that Roger and Stan would be taking the doubles court.  Wow, was that a great decision to have them play, as well as the earlier decision to seek the help of the Bryan Brothers' coach David Macpherson to increase their doubles strategy.  Usually the doubles point is huge in winning Davis Cup ties, and it certainly was here.

When I woke up on Sunday and found that Gasquet was replacing Tsonga in the singles match against Federer I know the Swiss guys likely had it in the bag.  Roger had found his game again on the doubles court Saturday, with his back obviously recovered and with enough clay practice to again feel comfortable.  I wouldn't say that Gasquet played a bad match; he was simply over-classed by an in-the-zone Fed who wasn't playing for himself, but for his brothers and for his country.  In fact, Federer never even faced a break point in his 6-4 6-2 6-2 win.  As he eased a final drop shot over the net on match point, he fell to his knees, then full out on his stomach as emotions took over.  The hugs from Captain Severin Luthi and then all the other members of the team were priceless to watch as I wiped my own tears.

 To say this is a well deserved win for both Federer and Wawrinka is a huge understatement.  So many of the teams who have won this trophy multiple times have come as a result of a great depth of players to rely on when some members want to take a break.  Not so with the Swiss - it really has been up to these two, which makes the win even more meaningful.  They both devoted themselves this year to making Davis Cup a priority and thankfully it paid off.  It would have been a terrible shame if the back injury that occurred when the two of them played each other the week before had prevented this great victory.  The fact that there was a little tension between the two really only shows the depth of their friendship; just as husbands and wives have little arguments and then quickly move forward, so did these two, who now get to share a wonderful celebration together on behalf of their team and their country.  Congratulations Swiss guys, and I will always feel that I have some Swiss blood in me because of you.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A few thoughts on Paris and beyond

Even though Federer lost in the quarterfinals of Paris today, it didn't take too long for the initial disappointment to dissipate.  Sure, the thought of him winning a third trophy in a row sounded appealing, and giving himself a great chance to end the year at #1.  But think about it - a lot of fans weren't necessarily even expecting him to play Paris at all after winning back-to-back trophies in Shanghai and Basel.  He had already expressed that the World Tour Finals in London and Davis Cup were his priorities.  If he would have made it all the way to the final he would have put two more days worth of matches into his already tired body.  I say it's time for a rest and to get ready for the last two big events of the year.

He didn't play a bad match at all in his loss to Raonic.  I will say, though, that Raonic played quite amazing.  He knew what was on the line for him - a chance to participate in the esteemed World Tour Finals - and he played like someone with a lot to lose.  Yes, I was getting frustrated with the way Federer wasn't having much of a chance on Raonic's service games because of that incredible serve, especially after having faced this already against Karlovic just the week before in Basel.  But Milos stepped up in more ways than just his serve, painting the lines many times on his forehand, and he deserved the win.  And I don't feel that Roger really minded losing that much anyway - his mind is already moving ahead to getting some rest and hopefully playing amazing in London.

Also, I never really felt that Roger adjusted fully to this ultra slow court in Paris.  Even though he got a couple wins, it seemed like it was a little more of a struggle than normal maybe.  I'm hoping the court in London will be a bit quicker for the style that suits his game so well.  He has already expressed he is hoping to win in London.  It will be a hard task, as always, but with the season he has had, why not?


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Federer lifts first trophy in Shanghai

Roger Federer continues to amaze.  At 33 years old he just won his second Masters 1000 title in a row, adding a trophy he has never won before, and beating world #1 Novak Djokovic in the process  With his 4th title of the year in 9 finals, with the most wins of anyone on the tour this season, those calling for his retirement have been shut down as he proves himself over and over again.

It was a hard fought battle in the final.  Unlike the match against Djokovic in the semifinal in which everything seemed to be working, a practically perfect match played by Roger in Novak's eyes, the match against Simon for the trophy was one of grit and determination, fighting through when things weren't going his way.  Starting the match by getting broken was certainly less than ideal, and then seeming to find no way to get into Simon's service games made for a frustrating first set, really just getting a bit lucky that Simon got tight trying to serve for the set.  Somehow, somehow, though, he managed to find a way to hang in there and take the tiebreak.  I really thought getting the first set under his belt was going to give him confidence to be able to close out the match in easier fashion, especially with Simon needing a medical timeout before the 2nd set started.  Although Roger had his chances to break, though, he just couldn't find a way to get it done.  And much credit to Simon who kept hanging in there.  Thankfully Roger was able to save break points and close it out in a second tiebreak.

Really this match didn't seem like the final to me - the semifinal against Djokovic was the match he totally shined in, playing the kind of tennis his fans absolutely love, with brilliant winners and not many errors.  He has been showing once again what a healthy Roger Federer can do, in spite of the criticism from the media, and supposed fans even, as he fought through injury last year.  I just can't say enough how impressive it is that someone who was supposedly finished, according to many, who was just too old to be relevant anymore in today's game, and who was going to ruin his legacy, at 33 (and with four kids, no less) has ignored all that, has continued to work hard, push through, and has already won four titles this year, again, with the most wins of anyone on tour.  I am just so impressed, in awe really, at what this man can do.  He now has a week off before one of his special tournaments, Basel, then we'll see what he decides to do about Paris before the World Tour Finals and Davis Cup.  There's even a potential he could end the year as World #1, though he would have to have an incredible finish to do so.  With the way he's been performing, though, I'm certainly not going to put it past him!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Federer into 11th semifinal of 2014 in Shanghai

In spite of being all stuffed up with a cold this week as well as beginning his conquest in Shanghai with a very late night, Roger Federer is through to his 11th semifinal of the year, to play world #1 Novak Djokovic.  

It started out with a rather perilous match against Leonardo Mayer, who was playing some sublime tennis.  Roger had five match points against him and would have been out on the first one if a lucky net cord had gone the other way.  But he managed to save all of them, some in a very topsy-turvy tiebreak that would challenge any Fed fan's nerves.  Since then his form has gotten progressively better.  In his 3rd round match against Batista Agut he was certainly tested, but came through in straight sets.  

His quarterfinal match against old foe Benneteau, who has given Roger and his fans some headaches in the past, proved to be a treat with some spectacular points on both sides.  Until the last couple points in the tiebreak in the first set it was impossible to tell who was going to come out on top, with Benneteau giving all that he had as he usually does against Roger.  That seemed to be all he had left, however, as the second set went very quickly with Roger serving up a bagel to close things out.

Roger has once again had to play all late evening matches in Shanghai.  Thankfully, however, his semifinal against Djokovic will also be at this same time, as I'm sure conditions are fairly different in the daytime.  I won't even venture a prediction on how this match will go, but either way Roger has continued to play amazingly this year and fully deserves the place he will go to at the beginning of next week, back to #2 in the world.