By Jill Neuharth
Sorry for the lack of reporting on Day 6 and 7. My time was up and I had to return to the States for a ladies event in Florida. By now I assume you are all aware of the astounding outcome of the tournament: Nadal in singles and the Bryans in doubles. Gee it’s not like those guys win tournaments everyday. Rather than regurgitate what you already know, I’d like to wrap up the week with perhaps a few things you did not.
The main event takes place at the ivy and history-laden Real Club de Tenis Barcelona 1899. In addition to the inveterate home of Nadal, center court, there are also three other smaller courts in use. Court 3, immediately adjacent to center court has no seating but can be viewed from a small walkway separated from the court by a large hedge. Mainly used as a practice court, it was in play on the first three days of the event. Court 2, situated to the east of Court 3 fared slightly better with seating for about 100 people and was usually standing room only. It was here that at least double that amount braved the frostbite to watch the Bryans take on Calleri-Starace. On the few occasions where it was not too crowded and you managed to get a seat, it was prime viewing for players entering or exiting the practice courts. Set far off to the rear of the event, access to the practice courts was granted through a guarded passageway which did not allow fans to view the sessions.
Court 1 was my personal favorite and I believe the most charming. Not only was the seating at least partially appropriate for the attendance, each of the corners featured low stone walls from which fans could look down over the sunken court while waiting or passing by. I found these to be some of the best seats in the house and on the early exceedingly-crowded days, perched myself atop the wall instead of braving the stands. The only negative aspect of my favored seat was the potential fire hazard. Europeans by and large are keen on their cigarettes, with Spaniards being no exception to that rule. Though they tend to be far more deferential than say the Italians when blowing their smoke, this was not the case when disposing of the smoldering butts. The brick walls lining the court are overgrown with ivy making for a quaint old-world atmosphere. The predicament is that Barcelona has been without rain for sometime now. I’ll let ya’ll do the math on that one.
So what do the players do all day when they are not playing? Not a whole hellova lot. Most players practice for about an hour at least once a day. Some during an off day on the schedule might actually go out and hit twice. The rest of the day is spent hanging out in the player lounge, watching TV, playing video games and messing around on their computers. Jason, the physical trainer for a certain bearded Russian player seems to think there might just be a black hole somewhere in the lounge. Every time he goes to look for his player in an attempt to entice him to perhaps go to the gym or run through some drills, the player is eerily absent.
A player party was scheduled for Wednesday night at a new hot club called Opium Bar in the Olympic Port. While there were a handful of players in attendance (I counted about eight or nine and perhaps four or five coaches), it failed to live up to the standard of most tournament-backed player events. By the time I left at about 2 a.m., the club was packed with 2,000 people paying a $20 Euro ($33.00 USD) cover charge to get in to the massive club. Normally these events have free food and drink for the players. All we got for free was the entrance fee. After paying 5 Euros ($8.25 USD) for a glass of tonic water or club soda (you do not even want to know what the drink prices were), most of the players had left by the time I did.
All of the players turned out the previous evening to watch an important Soccer match in the lobby bar of the hotel. I do not know if the party was sponsored by the tournament or hosted by Nadal himself as I heard conflicting accounts. What I do know is that with few exceptions, namely the Americans and the Russian who was swallowed by the black hole, the remaining players including Nadal and their coaches were having a first-rate time, drinking mucho free Vino and munching on esculent Tapas. My blog was finished a bit late that evening as the players had taken over “my office.” Only after the match was completed and the noise died down, was I able to settle into my computer. It was a bit tough after a few vinos but I’m a trooper. I prefer to work in the lobby of the hotel. Usually as in this case, the Wi-Fi is free there and also everyone knows where to find me. The players and coaches are much more relaxed at the hotel and usually willing to vent a bit about their day. Most have either met me or seen me at other events and will usually stop by and say hello or chit chat. By the end of the week I usually get scolded if I am not in my office when they came by.
Though I do keep my computer in the press box during the day, I do not find it to be a comfortable workplace. I check email, do research and look up facts but don’t really do much else there except to ask dumb questions to other media. At the Barcelona event there were several distinct “cliques” in the press lounge. At least a half dozen tournament staff dedicated to the tournament website spent the days huddled around their massive computer set up. Not a one of them spoke any English at least that I could tell. Good thing there are a plethora of free online translation websites since part of the tournament site is in English.
Across from the Catalans were two ATP staffers busy plucking away at their computers or locking themselves away in small closets to interview players. That was not a joke; it really was a small office next to the only bathroom available to the press. If there was an interview going on, we all had to hold it. There was a nice selection of Port-a-Potties on the opposite side of the grounds, but I wasn’t that desperate. The photographers were usually out on the court and the rest of the writers lined up chairs by the windows from where you could watch court number 2. The weather was a bit cold and nasty so not many ventured out. Probably the two most important guys there (the wire writers) barely look up from their desks, let alone go out to watch tennis. I asked one of them when the last time he had seen a match. He thought he might have seen a few minutes of one in Miami but not one since. When asked “why do you need to even attend the events if you don’t watch any of the tennis?” Answer: “For the quotes.”
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