Miami: Day three
I might have found my limit on live tennis: 3 days. I’m soooooo tired! Despite constant slatherings of sunscreen, my face, neck, arms, hands and left knee are sunburned. Oh, and my feet are twice the size as they are gathering up water weight that is needed to keep my pants from falling down.
Okay, whining over. Because really? Today I got to see some fun stuff and shouldn’t complain at all. But, I’m me…so there it is.
Started off running into Kate at breakfast again. We munched and then got on the tournament bus. While on the bus, I get a text just after 10am from a super-secret spy. The text says that Rafa has court 10 reserved for practice at 10:30am. I look at my watch and try to figure how long we’ve been driving and how long it usually takes me to walk from the bus stop to the courts. No way I’m going to make it, but I’m going to try, damn it! Bus stops and instead of doing my usual thing of getting off last, I get off as soon as I can and start walking as fast as I can. By the time I get to the gates, I’m a sweaty, exhausted, and gasping for air mess. But I keep going. It’s 10:30. Eeep! I round the corner and the court is empty. No one around. I pick a spot, tweet about the pending practice time and wait. A few minutes later I hear the squeals and shouts of “Rafa” that follow him wherever he goes. RafaPractice! And I have a spot on the fence.
Rafa does his warm-up: Maymo stretches Rafa’s legs (that’s an interesting site from my angle), ladder drill, tension cords, etc. I was having a very difficult time seeing most of this because people were leaning over the fence in front of me. But I couldn’t blame them; the view was nice. At one point, a very nice lady behind me says, “He needs to smile” and he did! I told her she had powers and should use them wisely and carefully.
I figured Rafa would start hitting on the far end (where he was warming up), but much to my surprise, he comes down to the end I’m on. Yay! He starts his slow, low-key warm-up hits (at this point, I have no idea who with since I can’t see the other end of the court) and slowly steps up the pace. He doesn’t look super happy and makes the standard “well, shit” faces at many shots, but he also doesn’t seem grumpy. Basically, he seems to be all business and very focused. I took this as a good sign. I finally see he’s hitting with Roig, but then a few minutes later hear someone say something about a doubles partner. I lean over the fence and look down and…it’s Marc! Yay! Marc! (BTW, Tomeu was there, but I guess without a foot-fault judge, Rafa didn’t want to hit with him.) At some point, a ball was hit into the crowd and Rafa asked for it back. He made a kind of “I know this is unpleasant for you, but it must be done, so thank you” face while holding out a hand. Heh.
I always wonder what Roig and Rafa talk about on the court. Today it seems the word Rafa said most to Roig was, “eh?” I don’t know if he wasn’t listening at first or what. Roig and Marc had some lengthy convos too. I think Roig is talky. Hell, the whole group seems talky.
After a bit, they switch ends and Marc! is down on my end. (Is it just me, or does that sound dirty?) When he did, Rafa wasn’t quite ready yet and so Marc! started hitting the ball to himself using the scoreboard as a hitting partner. Then he tried the same thing with the backdrop. He then started playing some tennis-footie and did that, “kick the ball up and catch it on the back of your neck” thing. This drew much applause and he looked at the crowd and smiled….and then did it again. I think the boy’s a ham. Bless him. Later, someone in the crowd was asking him questions in Spanish. Marc! looked at his racket and said, “Luxilon” – so I’m guessing the question had to do with strings. Man, am I smart.
After an hour of standing, leaning, bending over, and bumping people, the photography session, erm, practice was over. He signed autographs and then the squealing “Rafa”ing entourage receded off into the distance. Thanks so much, secret spy. I never would have caught this session without the text message. I figured he’d practice early on the stadium court since he’s done that before when he’s 2nd or 3rd on stadium.
I headed over to the court the Verdasco/Lopez doubles was about to start on. I watched a bit of that before leaving for the stadium and RafaTime. On the way there, kefuoe somehow manages to spot me and say, “Hi.” That’s 2 days in a row. On huge grounds and with oodles of other people around. It’s kind of freaky. Anyway, we chat a bit and then she goes off in one direction (she didn’t have stadium tickets) and I go in another, find my seats and get settled in.
I never get tired of “Olympic gold medalist, Rafael Nadal” – can that be part of his introduction for ever and ever? A lot of you got to see the match and probably know more about it than I do (although, I wasn’t taking as many pictures as I usually do since I’d been so spoiled already). That double fault in the tie-break almost killed me. All I could think of was, “nerves are going to do him in again – he’s stuck in a bad cycle and can’t get out of it.” Thank goodness I was wrong. Yes, he had some help from Nalbandian, but help from an opponent hasn’t always been enough lately. No, Rafa gutted this out and it was great to see – especially against a player that seems to undermine his confidence on a good day.
One thing I did notice: Team Nadal was very animated today, and Rafa was yelling, cursing and looking to them a lot. During the second set, Maymo kept yelling out “Vamos!” and “Rafa”, etc with increasing frequency. When Rafa went up on Nalbandian’s serve in that last game? Maymo leaned over and gave Tomeu or Marc! (I don’t remember which) a HUGE high five and then stood up and yelled at Rafa again. Rafa looked so relieved and happy to have won that match. I think beating Nalbandian will do great things for his confidence – even if Nalbandian wasn’t at his best.
He had to wait forever to do some TV interviews. I don’t know if the headsets weren’t working or if they just kept having to change them out for different interviews, but from all the hand-gesturing going on, I think there was a malfunction. When he was finally giving the interviews, he was talking with his hands and shrugging like usual.
After that, I watched the end of Ferrer/Karlovic. Ferrer won and guess who he plays next? (I got a little obsessed with Ferrer’s tongue while taking pictures of this match. I think he spent about half the match with it out.)
After that, when I realized I’d been starring at the OOP for over 10 minutes without being able to decide where to go next, I figured it was time for a sit down and some “lunch” (around 5pm). So, I got some food and asked two chatty people if I could share their table. They said yes and continued to talk about French wine while I ate. After the lady got up, I noticed they both had volunteer badges on. After a bit, I awkwardly struck up a conversation with the gentleman and am glad I did. He was a long-time tennis fan and a long-time volunteer who had a lot to say (without that “know it all” air) about the game, the problem with getting attention to doubles and the way the sport needs a “star like Agassi and not a great but boring player like Samprass.” Hmmm. My mind is thinking, “Federer or Nadal?” He went on to say that while not as boring as Samprass, Federer is certainly no Nadal and I smiled and agreed vigorously. Then he said it was interesting to see how much Rafa had changed over the years, “well, even since last year.” Hmmm. What did he mean? Even as recently as last year, he said, Rafa would spend hours in the players’ lounge surrounded by other Spanish speaking players “and women” laughing and chatting – it was non-stop smiles and good feelings. This year, he said Rafa’s spent a lot of time alone and not out in the public areas. He saw Rafa lying down in one room with his headphones on and that he appeared to spend quite a while in there. I know Rafa’s had to do a lot of growing up in the past year, but this almost felt more like a “needs to find a new way to get his colm” to me. Of course, I could be reading far too much into it, but I found it interesting. It makes me appreciate the smiley fun he had with Tomeu yesterday just that much more.
After I said good-bye to the pleasant fellow, I decided to come back to the hotel. I really need to catch up on my sleep. So, as soon as I sort through some photos to share with you guys, I’ll do just that.
(Hours after getting back, it still feels like I have my hat on. That creeps me out!)