I went to the opening weekend of Sony Ericsson Open for the 2nd year in a row with my Mom. Our tickets were for Fri night, all day Sat, and Sun day session. We arrived on Thursday evening and I checked the OOP for Fri to find out when I could see Rafa. He was scheduled to play last on Fri day session. Executive decision – purchase tickets pronto. Then the rains came. I thought to myself, did I just spend money for a match we might never see? It’s worth the risk for Rafa.
We got to Crandon Park in the early afternoon and there was light rain. Just as we were passing through the gates it really seemed to clear. My mom said that we must have lucked out and escaped the rain. Uh, no. Play was suspended at that time so we headed to get some lunch. Light drizzle while we were in line and by the time we got our food it was pouring. We were under a covered area by the registers and essentially trapped there. I thought I saw an open table and we dashed for it. Alas, the table was open because there was no umbrella. We ducked for cover next to some unsuspected ladies who were not too friendly and quickly moved on to another mother-daughter pair who had two seats to spare. I got the bad seat as the rain poured off the umbrella down my back. Everyone was completely waterlogged. It let up and we took cover in the stadium concourse.
We were situated above the player’s entrance and I saw a moving commotion coming toward us. It was Federer coming back from practice I guess. My mom is such a Fed KAD. She totally kept yelling his name and waving frantically as he signed autographs to those down by the entrance. She was like a schoolgirl and now I know what I look like getting all squealy over Rafa. Djokovic was scheduled to play first when things resumed. While on the concourse stairs, we saw him on a terrace area of the player’s lounge about an hour before his match. He was laughing with a lady sitting with her back to us. I couldn’t tell who she was. He seemed to be in a really good mood chatting her up and then he turned and jogged away still laughing. Perhaps he was already taking Rochus too lightly. We all know what happened in that match.
Rafa’s match got bumped up right after Nole’s and I was ready for the upset bug to buzz off to some other court. I know my energy changed and I was excited to see our man. The announcer always says that the next match will be just a few minutes away. I saw him standing near the player entrance and I knew they were waiting for Rafa. After a few moments he just went ahead and announced Taylor Dent. I thought that was weird since they’d end up still waiting for Rafa at the net anyway, which of course they did. Rafa came along soon enough and then seemed to take his sweet time at his chair. Lars Graf was the umpire and he commenced to shout into the already loud mic for the entire match. I mean it was ridiculously loud. I think Rafa played a decent match and gave us some good points to cheer. My favorite part was probably between sets. We were sitting behind Rafa’s chair in the middle tier. His back during the shirt change…oh my!!! Let me just say that I didn’t mind not seeing the abs. My mom was looking around the stadium and asked what all the commotion was about. She tried to act like she didn’t notice but I saw her looking J. Taylor served well, he hit some really big serves, but our man was too much for him. I was quite happy. Of course later on we saw the crowd by the car service waiting for Rafa to exit. We were up on the concourse looking down. We waited about 15 minutes. I was ready to get to our seats cause who knew how long it would be before Rafa would emerge and we had already been cut off access to that area so it would just be overlooking his exit. My mom (who I am getting more convinced is a closet Rafa fan) kept saying a few minutes more and he’d probably come as soon as we left. Well, after a few minutes we left and as I we climbed the stairs on came the shouting and then Rafa. At first he walked toward the car as if he was not going to sign autographs. He opened the door, paused and then removed his shirt and went over to the crowd. I was almost fit with laughter when I saw that. What a ham! After another match in the stadium we strolled the grounds a little and then called it a day.
There were lots of matches that we wanted to see on Saturday. We had day and night session tickets. The priority for the day for me was Rafa and Marc against the Bryans. I also wanted to see Baghdatis, and thankfully he was on Grandstand court which gave us a hope to getting into the stadium to get decent seats. We got a late start out of the hotel which was bad because after such a rocky weather day on Friday, Saturday promised to be very nice by all the local weather reports. They told everyone about all the happenings in Miami area and said get out there. And they did. Traffic was crazy. It was even crazier once on Key Biscayne and trying to get to parking and shuttle buses. It took a solid 2+ hours to make a 30-40 trip. It was all we could do to hustle over to the Grandstand, which is the farthest court from the entrance. There were long lines at all entrances. Thankfully a changeover occurred soon as we got there and we moved up in line considerably. By the next one we were seated during the middle of Chela vs. Baghdatis.
I reached out to SapphireSwell at this time to meet up and get the Fundacion Rafa Nadal hat that we ordered. We had to get through several and phone calls to find each other. It was bedlam that stadium with so many people moving about whenever we were allowed to move. We decided it would be easier after the match and that worked out well. We got to have a nice little chat before heading to different matches. Thanks again! As for the match, it was a riot. As has been reported Team Not-As-Cute did not fare well but they seemed to be enjoying themselves enough. There was a Latina lady sitting behind me and every time Tomeu had a foot fault she would say “oh dios mio” and I could tell she was slapping her hand to her forehead. I think she expected that they would win as she was quite into every point. She rooted heartily for Chela in the previous match. I was just glad they were able to win a game and so was everyone else I guess given the raucous cheering. During the infamous loose string incident, I could not believe Bryan was preparing to serve as Rafa was tugging at his sleeve. I almost thought he was receiving and almost shouted “wait, he’s not ready, he’s not even looking” but it was Tomeu receiving and Rafa kept on about his business fighting the string. Of course I was hoping for a more competitive match, but it was nice to watch them play and even more fun to see the carefree smiles on Rafa’s face.
A bit later in the day we went in the souvenir shops and I was wearing the hat. One of the sales people asked me about it. He was like, “you didn’t get that from here, right” and I explained and he told me it was really nice. My mom told me that a customer asked her about it and where could he get one. I got several compliments anytime that I had it on. Yay! There were many toro hats across the grounds as well as little boys wearing Rafa’s AO kit. Sadly some big boys (men) were wearing it too; just didn’t fit quite right. Cute on kids, odd on grown men not named Rafa Nadal. There were plenty of RF hats and t-shirts in the crowd as well. We saw Fed’s match which was the evening headliner. Lapenti played decent, and he had a lot of crowd support. It almost had a Davis Cup feel to it with all the flags, cheering and even the wave going around several times. It was actually fun and my mom had a blast so bonus.
Ahh Sunday. We decided on Saturday night that we’d be sure to get out early on Sunday to avoid any potential traffic pitfalls. Saturday was such a long day but I woke up a little after 7a with a start afraid I had overslept. I have never seen such bags under my eyes. I looked horrible. It didn’t seem like a good start, but I my energy stores came through as we reached Crandon Park. We immediately went to court 2 because my mom wanted to see J. Zheng who was playing doubles. I cannot recall much about that match because shortly after sitting down we could see a big crowd at court 10. “Wonder who’s practicing?” mom asks casually. I looked over top the fence and the yellow hat was my first clue. Looks like one of the Nike Toro’s. Bright red shirt. Rafa likes colors. Buggy-whip looking follow through. “I think that’s Rafa!” I get over to the edge of the sitting area to get a better peek. I see Maymo and top of Rafa’s head from mid-nose up. I try to get a good view from where we are but can only really see the tops of heads. Venus is practicing at the adjacent court which is closer to me. I can look right down on her practice. Someone in her camp is peeking through an opening in the covered fence and watches Rafa for quite a bit. I get back to my mom and told her just can’t get a good view. She says go on over there. I’m hesitant if it’s worth it cause it appears that I’ll get no better view. She urges again and I go for it. I can get fairly close, only about 3 people back and can see him pretty well. Someone behind me asks someone “wonder why he’s got that scowl on his face?” He was right, Rafa looked a bit crabby. His match was scheduled to start about 2 hours later and he was absolutely drenched. He served a bit (didn’t look good) and a few minutes later prepared to leave. Everyone on that end edged toward the gate and on came the calls of “Rafa, Rafa”. I held out my hat feebly. He was not far away but not close for an autograph and I was not aggressive about it. Getting pushed along and moving with the crowd as he moved kept me “trying” but also caused me to be walking just a few steps behind him and security. My mind was whizzing with excitement as I realized he was right there. I could touch him. Should I touch him? Of course, touch Rafa! No, the poor guy is trying to just get along and get ready for his match. Are you kidding, you better touch Rafa and touch him now! So I did! Gently, but surely I touched his left shoulder and it was strong and solid. I couldn’t tell if he noticed or not since he kept moving and wasn’t facing me. I slowed and just froze and couldn’t believe it. I text a few people – “I touched RAFA!!!” My 18 year old brother who’s half my age replied – “schoolgirl, lol” and my 29 year old sister who should know better replied – “what is that”. Excuse me? I set her straight and sent her a pic of him. She replied “Oh my he’s handsome, good for you.”
I was on a high as I caught up with my mom at Feli and Fer’s doubles match. She told me that she was outside the court when they were walking in and they moved right past her. Feli gave her a big smile as she greeted them but Fer was all business and kept his focus forward. My mom loves to remind that she saw some interview on Tennis Channel with Feli where he says “I’m a very important man in my country.” She calls him Mr. I’m very important in my country. We saw them win the first set and headed to the stadium for Rafa’s match with Nalby. I was nervous about it because Rafa just didn’t look pleased on the practice court. I wondered how he would come out. We saw Papa Nadal sitting in the player’s box, but he disappeared very early on and I never saw him in the box again. I’ve seen him on tv since so I know we weren’t imagining things. Wonder why he left. The atmosphere in stadium was great. There was a lot of cheering for both players. Shouts of “vamos” left and right. The support was split among those sitting around us so there was a cheer or groan after every play coming from all sides. It was great. It helped me not to be nervous (I usually don’t frazzle, but can get a bit tense). I just relaxed and enjoyed being there and after the first set Rafa got some breathing room and it really became fun to just be part of it. This was the 6th match that I’ve seen Rafa play live, and I had never been more aware of his point construction and anticipating his reaction. I could not wait to see if and how he would vamos or fist pump. Especially when the point won him the game and he looked to his box. When he pounded his chest my reaction was to pound my chest. I did it harder than I intended and it hurt. My mom looked at me like I was crazy. Also, she and I usually don’t get to see tennis together and I don’t think she realized that I mostly cheer Rafa in Spanish. I knew this was the last time I’d be seeing him live in this tournament, so it was great to leave on good feelings. We caught a couple of more matches before bidding adios to Crandon Park. It was great weekend and one I’d love to do again next year!