I take the very first shuttle from the hotel over to the site and, after some confusion, pick up the credentials that have been arranged for me by Tennis Connected. I start wandering the grounds trying to get a feel for the layout, but it’s drizzling and so that’s not too pleasant. Luckily the rain cleared up before tennis was scheduled to start. I saw that Rafa was to practice at noon. I roamed around taking pictures of various practice sessions and a few of one match before noticing that the public area for viewing Rafa’s practice course was filling up, so…
Rafa walked into his practice with a smile on his face and to applause from the people lined up to see him. He and Maymo were there first and started his warm up routine. Davydenko was still practicing on the court since Rafa was early. He said hello to the security people (low fives), took a look at Davydenko as he practised as well as Juan Carlos Ferroro (who was on the next court, the one closest to the public). He jumped some rope and then did the things with the strength bands we’ve seen before. Roig arrived with Verdasco (Rafa’s training partner for the session) and his coach. Soon, things started off with them having a nice easy hit. They slowly built up the pace and power in their shots. Rafa was sending a lot of shots long at first – he was working the flatter forehand (across his chest) and was having a bit of trouble finding his range. He didn’t seem perturbed by it – just kept working. The forehands eventually started falling in. After about an hour, Verdasco left and Roig started feeding Rafa forehands and backhands. Rafa also worked on serves. Another hour later, he left to squeals of delight from the fans who had been standing by the gate hoping for an autograph. During the whole session, Rafa looked relaxed and happy – there were many smiles and he and the guys were joking quite often. Everyone to players on the next court, the ones on the court when he got there, the ones who showed up as he was leaving and the security guard got greetings and low-fives.
While waiting for and watching the practice, I had the pleasure of meeting three ladies from the Vamosbrigade. After the practice, we went for lunch before splitting up to watch different matches. I was going to go to Lu/Chardy (since I wasn’t quite sure how to gain photo access to the main courts yet), but it started sprinkling and play was suspended. While waiting out the rain delay, I figured out where the court-side access was for court BN. The match that was going to resume there was between two Canadian players and that would be followed by Rafa’s doubles match. Since the fellows for whom I’m supposed to be taking photos are Canadian and were tweeting about the match, I figured I’d photograph the rest of that match and then stay planted there because there isn’t a lot of room for photographers in that court and I wanted to make sure I had a space for the doubles match.
Little did I know that photographers sit on this very low (curb height) bench with no back. Oye! It wasn’t comfortable at all, especially when holding a heavy camera. But, it was worth the discomfort! It’s so exciting to be sitting RIGHT THERE. I was right next to the service line judge chair. The match finished in two sets and soon it was time for Rafa. Djokovic and Vemic walked out first and chose the chairs directly opposite me. I thought about getting up and going to the other bench, but at that point, I couldn’t feel my left foot and was worried I’d fall flat on my face. So, I ended up sitting there the whole match – one large butt cheek on the bench, one off to help make room for more photographers.
Rafa and Roig walked onto the court to a huge round of applause. It actually took me about half the match to fully realize he wasn’t wearing sleeves. (It was the pit hair on a serve that finally had me notice it.) Seriously, people – that’s how little I care about it and why I get so crazy with all the uproar. Anyway, back to what matters. Rafa and Roig looked relaxed, but serious about winning. I don’t think Rafa is capable of being not serious about winning. It’s difficult to get a good feel for a match when taking photos. You have to have the camera focused on one player at a time trying to get shots. I spent most of the time not really knowing who was ahead or what was going on. Maybe more experienced photographers do better, but not me! Rafa ran down a few balls hard and didn’t seem any worse for it. He did make a face at Roig after one run, but I had the feeling it was more about the result of the shot than his knees.
When the match was over, I saw that he was being interviewed on court by Rosana and that other photographers had gone over there to take pictures…so it must be allowed right? Off I went. He was very smiley in the interview. After finishing that, he walked off court and signed some autographs for the fans in the stands by the player entry ramp.
Next up, I tried to go to the presser, but they moved it and I guess I didn’t hear the announcement. Stupid me. So…I thought I’d figure out center court access and photograph Monfils/Safin who were already in the second set. No one, however, would let me into the court. I finally see a guy with a huge camera and a press pass going up one ramp, so I follow him. We stood there until the change over and I stuck to him like glue down to the court access. More sitting on a wee bench and more fun as the match was an emotional fare given the two competitors. Sadly, Safin lost. The crowd, however, was happy about the Monfils win. Next up was the Simon match, but I had been operating all day on 2 hours of sleep and decided to leave. Given the rain I saw on my way back, I was glad I did.
A few pictures to tease you – they are small and not processed properly, but my cheap-ass netbook can’t handle processing photos from my camera. It took well over an hour to do just these! I think I included a few you might like, though. ;) The poor guys at Tennis Connected still haven’t received their photos because my internet connection here is slow as molasses and trying to send the full-sized photos via email or ftp is taking 30-45 minutes per photo!
And nope, I didn’t go today (well, yesterday). After staying up until 2am trying to pick out and send photos for Tennis Connected, I got up at 5:45 am in order to catch a train to Quebec City where my friend and I did much walking. Now it’s almost 1am and I have a full day of tennis ahead of me!