SapphireSwell at the SEO

Photo by SapphireSwell

For the second year in a row, the Sony Ericsson Open did not fail to impress. Armed with the knowledge and experiences from last year, my friend and I bought Opening Weekend tickets early and secured seats directly across from umpire in order to exploit shirt changes.

We arrived Wednesday night and spent Thursday with my family. For Friday, I had planned to take my friend to sight-see in South Beach and possibly meet up with miri, but this plan was foiled when Rafa appeared as the last match of the day session. We scrambled to purchase crap tickets, and I was surprised that the 400’s were just about sold out. Who goes to see tennis on a random Friday afternoon?! Oh, Rafans, obviously….

Day One:
Friday morning arrived quickly, and we were ready to rush to Key Biscayne. My friend and I each packed enough survival gear to make my mom question, “Are you planning to spend the night in Miami or something?” Oh, I wish.

With a beach towel (to wipe down wet seats and to sit on), a ginormous camera weighing 6 lbs, a windbreaker, a poncho to cover me and my camera that went unused, a pair of Crocs for puddles, water, lunch, fruit, suncscreen, my RRRRAAAFFA shirt, one floppy straw hat, three Rafa Fundacion hats, and about 10 gigs of memory for my camera in tow, we set off.

I planned to leave late at around 10:15 in hopes of escaping the morning gridlock on 95, but Miami traffic did not cooperate. By the time we were parked and shuttled to Crandon Park, most of Daveeed’s match was over – sad. I think we caught four games of the last set, in a match that he won easily. I <3 Daveed, and his endless effort and towel munching. He's like a favorite golden retriever to me, in that I love to watch him chase down each point. He's such a fighter. After the match, I met up with miri and her friend Kate, and we decided to go for a little tour of the practice courts. It was noon time, and I had a feeling that Rafa would around to practice before his match later in the day... lo and behold, as we turn the corner to approach P10, I zone in on some crazy waffle shorts and hear the Rafa squeeesss!! (Apparently miri had seen Marc! and Roig before this, but I didn't notice. I only have Rafa-dar.) We wound up standing at the far end of the court behind some average height fans. I was partially blocked as I tried to take pictures, and I think I clunked some lady in the head with my lens. Sadly she didn't budge, and I was still obstructed. After about ten minutes of fighting with people to get to the front, Mother Nature intervened with a downpour. No more Rafa practice, as everyone scrambled to hide from a thunderstorm. The rain didn’t let up for another two hours. Tennis finally started again with Nole v Rochus in the Stadium, so we went over to witness what ended up to be a nasty upset. Basically, Nole played like he didn't really care, while Rochus played hard. He chased down difficult returns, and ultimately won in the three setter. I felt like the match was a bit like a slow moving train wreck with Nole just standing around waiting for it all to end. It was surprising to see Nole loose so early, but he was a good sport about it and signed autographs for the kids near the exit (a gesture that some other players do not make the effort in doing, ahem, A. Murray.) The stadium got pretty crowded as the sun set and Rafa v. Taylor Dent took the court. We all got to see Rafa debut his bumble bee yellow kit, which was a great relief from the waffle shorts earlier in the day. It was an easy win for Rafa, which made the match end all too quickly. However, there were more matches to watch, namely Nalbandian v Troicki. This played out over on the Grandstand, so miri and I got to sit together for half a set. Nalby won after initially struggling a little, and this set up for Rafa’s next match. My friend and I went to my night session after the Nalby match and saw the end of Henin v. Dementiava. We then watched the very beginning of the Roddick match, but we got really bored of aces *yawn* and left for home during the first change over. Day Two:
It was a bright and promising morning, and we set out early to try and catch all of the exciting matches this day. I wanted to see Nando, the Rafatwins, Andy M., Pico, and my friend wanted to see her beloved: the elusive Federer.

We were able to catch the middle of the Nando match, but we left early in order to claim seats for the Rafatwins v Bryan Bros match. It was a good thing we arrived a match early because we managed to see the entire Baghdatis match, during which the Grandstand filled to max capacity. Teejustice and I were both at the stadium, seated very close to each other, but it was so crowded that I couldn’t meet up with her at any point in the stadium to give her the Fundacion hat…

When Rafa and Tomeu walked on court, the crowd went wild. It must have been a little intimidating for the Bryan brothers to hear a reception like that… yeah, that’s what Rafatime’s like.

The match itself went very poorly for team Rafa and especially for Tomeu. He foot faulted a lot, and the Bryan brothers made him the easy target. However, as awful as the match went, Rafa was cheery and smiling the whole way through. He was genuinely enjoying himself, talking and laughing with his friend. It’s a really nice side of him to see, and I’m really glad that he got some fun time on court. Sadly, this match ended all too quickly with the Rafatwins getting bageled at one point. However, I like miri’s take on this match, screw the score – Rafa was having a brilliant time and it was lovely to watch.

I met teejustice and her mom after the match and was able to deliver her hat! If anyone is thinking about ordering it, it’s very cute!! However, be aware that it is a textured white cottony fabric (not the dryfit stuff), so it will show any smudge or sweat, and it does not have an adjustable snap at the back… It’s good for collecting or if you’re into autographs… Anyhow, we all chatted for a bit and went off to catch separate matches.

I must have been some kind of bad luck charm because my next mid-afternoon match on the Stadium was the Murray v Fish. I watched Andy Murray standing around being grumpy and quickly loose this match. This is the second match I witnessed with a top five player looking like someone cast his feet in concrete. There wasn’t a lot of running on Andy’s part, he just looked really pissed off and mumbled to himself. Having practiced in Miami all winter long, I thought he would have been a little more motivated at this tournament, but he was disposed of and left the court in a hurry. And that was the end of Andy.

My friend and I tried to catch the Pico match, but didn’t get there in time. We did see Cilic and then Berdych in the first row of one of the smaller courts. Being that close was a great experience.

We ended up leaving the Berdych match early to catch the night session: Federer v Lapentti. This was a typical and easy match for Fed, and Lapentti didn’t put up too much of a fight. The crowd got really loud for Fed, but I did hear some cheers for Nico too, which made me happy. The match lasted a little more than an hour, and we left after my friend oogled enough of the Maestro. We still have no idea when he practices, if ever, but we heard that he did an autograph signing sometime that day… so elusive, that Fed.

Day Three:
We woke up exhausted from two days of sitting under the sun, but I was super pumped to get to see Rafa for a third time in three days. Tournaments do not get any better than this!!

The drive to the stadium was much easier because we left early. I arrived at 10:45 and was satisfied that I didn’t feel rushed or late… until I saw miri’s message saying that Rafa was scheduled for practice at 10:30. My friend offered to sit and save a seat for me at the Felando dubs match while I joined the crowd at Rafapractice! I was stuck behind a bunch of early bird fans at the practice court, but made my way up slowly. I was able to get some adorable pictures of Marc! being trixy and also some mediocre shots of Rafa on the far side of the court. miri was able to get a much better view since she was the devoted fan that arrived early.

After Rafa exited the court, I made a dash for the much anticipated Felando match. I’ve always wanted to see Team Hotness play, and boy were they a sight to behold. Feli was in white shorts that he tucked into his tighty whities to make shorter (will post photos, but miri has these too), and Nando was just plain hot with his female supporter box which included Kim Kardashian. Felando did a great job looking good and winning, and I got some funny picture of Feli in compromising positions. He’s such a hoot. Unfortunately, we had to run out of this match early to make it to Rafa v Nalby.

The Rafa v Nalby match did not seem like it should have been a third round one. I’ve seen one of their matches prior to this, and it was really close and very tense. When the first set went into tie breaker, I questioned if Nalby actually had surgery recently. He was playing strategically and ran Rafa around the court at will. The second and third sets were sighs of relief as Rafa broke early while Nalby seemed to tire quickly. After about two and a half hours of fulfilling tennis, the clouds rolled in, and the matched ended in a huge fist pump and jump. And we just like that, we had to leave too. We stopped by to say goodbye to miri, and then went off to MIA so my friend could catch her flight back to New York.

Epilogue:
This year’s SEO was everything we had planned and more (Rafa)! I felt incredibly lucky to have been able to see three Rafa matches and to catch little glimpses of his practice too. After this year’s experience, I feel that the SEO atmosphere is definitely more fan friendly than the USO – no full height fences covered in fabric to block fans and a more relaxed bag check policy. The SEO is also large enough to hold entertaining matches almost all Opening Weekend long. Surely there somebody worth oogling over!

There are somethings to remember:

  • Security does not check bags, so people were able to bring in monopods, drinks, food, and much, much more.
  • With that said, bring the largest hat you can find so you can hide your face from the sun and from those that you stalk.
  • Wear sunglasses because the sun is out of control, even under the hat.
  • Bring a huge towel to wipe down seats and sit on because 12 hours on hard seats wrecks your back.
  • Bring proper raingear and Crocs because it will most likely drizzle then pour for a few hours while you’re there and slippery puddles accumulate everywhere.
  • Pack that oil free SPF 70 sports sunblock, and don’t forget sunblock chapstick!
  • Wear dresses if you can. It was seriously so much cooler/comfortable with a dress on than shorts and a tee shirt.
  • Make friends with tennis fans on Twitter. They will give you clues as to when matches start on other courts and where and when favorite players will be on practice courts – THANK YOU!
  • Try to pack a lunch or some kind of emergency snack to avoid the long lines at the concession. (The crepes are good and worth the wait, though.) Alternatively, the Stadium has hot dogs, chips, and fruit with much shorter lines.
  • Start working out your shoulders earlier in the year so you can carry your 15 lbs of supplies for the entire day. (My shoulders hurt for the entire week after. This was more difficult than hiking with a pack.)
  • Also I noticed that that the 400 level seats in the Crandon Park Stadium equate to Loge seats in Arthur Ashe, so the SEO is a MUCH better deal :) The Grandstand is also smaller, so you can get a closer experience there too.

13 Responses

  1. kefuoe says:

    Thanks for your take SapphireSwell. I think the 400 seats at SEO are pretty good indeed. Similar seats at Montreal were not as nice (though some were in the shade).

  2. Atch2 says:

    WOW. Your days seemed totally packed, but totally worth it. Miami weather sounds harsh and unpredictable, meaning you have to bring everything to cover every weather condition.

    Wondering how much of the 2+hr Nalby match contributed to the left knee twinge.

    Please share any Rafa shirt change photos, as proof of your good seats.
    Thanks SapphireSwell for sharing your experiences.

  3. tiemyshoe says:

    Thanks so much for the reportage! I’ve never been to a tournament, but they really seem like tennis Disneyland – running into characters at every turn.

    Thanks also for the description of Murray and Djokovic’s losses. It’s crazy that the latter wasn’t even broadcast! I saw snippets of Murray’s match and thought he was incredibly listless.

    Good on you for braving the Miami heat, which – much as I was vicariously pining for sunshine here in Chicago – could not have been fun in person.

  4. teejustice says:

    Great report of your SEO experience! You are right, the crepes are so worth it :D

    I thought last year that they at least attempted the check bags, but that was non-existent this year and the fruit from hotel breakfast came in quite handy. Great tips!

    Interesting comparison to USO. On Fri we were having lunch next to an older gentleman wearing USO 09 hat/shirt. About 3 people in a row asked him if he’d been to USO. He said yes, but that SEO was better because you have the same top players with much better access and less crowds.

  5. miri says:

    Thanks so much for the write up! And you are so right about the lack bag check. One day, the couple in front of me had TWO carry-on sized rolling suitcases full of food with them! Sheesh! I so should have brought my mono-pod…

  6. Nana says:

    I really enjoy your report, SapphireSwell! Every time I read about someone’s experience at a tournament, it just makes me itching to go! But living in Asia is just so far away from all the major action…. ~sighs~

  7. tennisfun says:

    thanks for rafa live trip

  8. Alix says:

    Nice report, thanks! Sounds that the tennis atmosphere as well as the weather are sooo Hot in Miami

  9. Jan P says:

    Thanks for a very entertaining report!! And all of your tips were very good!! My son was in Orlando this time last year, but, darn it, I didn’t even think about visiting him and then driving down to Miami for the SEO. And, now he’s in Texas. Oh, well. But, still, this is great to keep in mind for next year, especially since I was thinking about trying to go to the USO this year–now am reconsidering and would rather plan for next year in Miami!

    Thanks again!!

  10. CJ says:

    thanks for this. i hope to go someday. i like the insiders/rafa-fanatic’s take on the games because it gives me something to look forward to when i do finally get to go. i would totally be stalking rafa from afar and just hope to get a proper glimpse of his amazingness.

  11. faeaki7 says:

    wow you got to see 3 Rafa matches, you were lucky! I got to see one of his matches and 3 practices and thought I was lucky. Both Indian wells and Miami sound great tournaments to be, thanks for sharing your trip with us.

  12. rebel naughty says:

    Thanks Sapphire… I’m going to print these tips out and hopefully be much more prepared for my next tennis tournament. We were considering the US Open this year but now with your comments, I’m seriously considering skipping that.

    I’m horrid in sunny weather. For Roland Garros last year i was dead lucky my seats were shaded at all times. But i’m slowly seasoning my skin for tougher stuff. Indian Wells and Miami seem more and more tempting by the day. Well… there’s a year to plan for it now.

    I’m glad you got to enjoy so many Rafa moments… also miri and teejustice too. It helps to keep the rest of us going.

  13. SapphireSwell says:

    Hi All,

    Thanks for the lovely and encouraging comments :) I was a little worried about the length of the post, but I really couldn’t cut it down any further. I’m glad you all enjoyed reading, and I will post a link to photos…SOON! (I’m in the process of color correcting and trying to put together an album that has somewhat of a narrative… we’ll see how the latter goes.)

    Even having volunteered at the USO, I do have to say that the SEO is a more intimate tournament. The practice courts are more accessible, getting around the site is easier (I think it’s a little smaller), and security is more lax so you can bring in what you need and see also things like players being dropped off on site and trail them when they make the bee line entering practice cts – hehehe, did that last year. However, if you do not have your own transportation (rental car/your own car), Miami is more difficult to get around than NYC (with metro access to Manhattan for sightseeing, etc.) But, the tickets for Miami are approx 1/2 of what you would spend for USO, so plan wisely and have a vacation goal to select your destination :)

    I don’t know about IW, but it sounds like a lot of fun too. I like visiting and driving through California, so maybe that’s a good tourny to visit next year.

    Let me know if you are thinking about USO this year. I’ll definitely register to be a volunteer again this year! Maybe see you there? :D