Last year a group of us (me, Wooffie, Clare, Denzy and Debs who all met through another forum) decided that we would go to Rome to see Rafa in the Masters 1000 event.
Denzy had also been to Monte Carlo and unfortunately got stuck there due to the Icelandic volcano. As she didn’t get home until a couple of days before we were due to fly out to Rome she sadly couldn’t accompany us and we missed her.
So, after much panic, doom and gloom about the volcanic ash and whether or not we were going to be able to actually get to Rome, we were delighted to arrive on 25 April to gorgeous weather, and the knowledge that in just a few days we were going to see Rafa defend his title.
The first few days were spent sightseeing round Rome – a beautiful city. The Spanish Steps (of course), Vatican City (including the 320 steps up into the dome of St Peter’s Basilica with a bit of a rest half way up!) and the museums and Sistine Chapel, the Mouth of Truth, the Coliseum and Roman Forum. There is so much to see. And lots of gelato to keep us energised.
The day we had all been waiting for dawned on Wednesday and we headed off to the Foro Italico. First stop was the practice court, and we were rewarded with our first Rafa sighting. The gates were closed when we arrived but at about 11.30 they were opened and crowds made a dash for the concrete seating area for a good view of Rafa. He was warming up on the far court with Simone Bolleli – practice with a single-hand backhander for Rafa and a leftie for Simone! No chance for a close up with Rafa, but loved watching him practice again. After he had finished Roger Federer came along, so we took our leave and left the space for the Roger fans.
Then it was straight to the stadium for the end of the Robin Soderling match and to see Rafa in action against Philip Kohlschreiber. The only time I’ve only seen Rafa play before was at the O2 World Tour Finals last year, and we all know he wasn’t at his best then. So to see him in the glorious sunshine, sliding around on the clay and looking fit as a fiddle was simply fantastic. He made light work of Kohlschreiber, which I was very pleased about. We stayed and watched him doing the on court interviews and then making lots of people in the crowd happy with autographs. Then it was off to get some pizza (us not Rafa LOL) and back later for the evening match. Me and Wooffie watched Feli against Cilic on the second court, it was a great match. Feli looked really tired in the first set but suddenly came alive and held on to clench victory. It really meant a lot to him, he sat with his head in his hands for a while. Fabulous! After that it was time to head off home…too tired (and a bit chilly) to hang around for the doubles.
Thursday dawned and it was back to the tournament site and straight to the main stadium to see Djokovic vs Bellucci. Novak looked in good form, and I did wonder if we might see a repeat of last year’s Final. After that we went to one of the outside courts for a bit of Kubot and Marach against Troicki and Tipsarevic. Then we decided it must be nearly Rafa practice time, so headed off for the practice courts again. There wasn’t anything much going on but it was as good a place as any for lunch in the shade. We were rewarded with a little display of footie skills from Juan Monaco, but then the main event…RAFA arrived! He was wearing a lovely shade of purple/pink. He was having a bit of trouble with the blister and lovely Rafa Maymo taped it up again for him. At one point one of the balls rolled over to the gutter where we were all standing against the fence, and we got all excited thinking Rafa would come and get it – but Uncle Toni spoilt the opportunity. He knew it too, and had a bit of a joke with us about it, saying that we wanted Rafa to come and get it. The practice seemed to go well, and then, amidst many screams Rafa came over to sign some autographs. Unfortunately for us he went down the other side of the court, so no luck that day. After Rafa left we went off to watch a little bit of Murray against Ferrer (vamos Ferrer!) and then had some tea before Rafa’s match against Hanescu. Again Rafa came through it comfortably. Hanescu was a hard hitter but Rafa dealt with it fairly easily and was a joy to watch again. We all went home happy.
Friday came around. We wandered over to the player’s entrance, and saw lots of tennis players, especially as the women had started to arrive for practice. We spotted Ana Ivanovic (very pretty and natural). Tsonga came striding out of the entrance with a huge ice pack on his wrist and looking very moody. Ferrer was sitting on the steps chatting on his phone and Novak’s coach was hanging around chatting. We also saw Mo Leyhani arriving and he was his usually happy self, posing with fans for pictures. He has got such a lovely smile. :)
While we were standing there, one of the security guards noticed our Rafa t-shirts and told as that Rafa was practising on Campo 2, so we quickly rushed off down there. Surprisingly we were easily able to manoeuvre our way to the front to enjoy the view. And then to much excitement we were in the right place when Rafa came over to do his usual signing session. I was very pleased to get an old copy of Ace magazine (with Rafa in Monte Carlo 2008 mode on the front) signed. Wooffie wished him good luck and he nodded at her. We floated away and went to watch the very long Novak vs Nando match. It was very enjoyable, particularly as I was fairly neutral for it. Always more relaxing that way! Then Daveed quickly disposed of Tsonga and it was Rafa time again! A more difficult match against Wawrinka to start with, but once Rafa got the break there was no way back for Wawrinka; Rafa moved up a gear and it was all very relaxing and enjoyable. And it is so brilliant when they play “Gypsy” between the sets LOL. Then it was off for a celebratory beer and more pizza before coming back in the evening to watch Feli vs Gulbis. Feli ran him close in the first set, but faded quickly in the second, unfortunately.
On Saturday we arrived at the site and settled into our usual place on the practice courts. There were only women players practising though, so I wandered off to have a look in the shops and pop to the loo. While I was in the area I thought I’d quickly check out what was happening at the players’ entrance. There weren’t many people hanging about, but I noticed a girl with a Rafa cap and t-shirt lurking, so thought I’d stay there for a few minutes before heading back to the girls. I got so lucky…about 5 minutes later Rafa arrived, suddenly there were a few more people about, but Rafa came over for more signings and signed my ticket. He was looking lovely in a green t-shirt (sigh). To add to my joy the polo shirt I’d had my eye on (a blue Nike one with “I lob Roma” on it had been reduced to half-price from the day before so I got myself a bargain too. :)
We then headed off to the Nando vs Daveed match. Daveed started off poorly, couldn’t seem to find the court, but then completely turned it round and it was Nando that was struggling. I think Nando definitely was suffering after his great three weeks and the hard match against Novak the day before, and in the end was beaten fairly comprehensively by Ferrer.
Then once again to the main event…Rafa vs Gulbis. And boy, oh boy, what an event. What a match! I was so glad Rafa got the early break in the first and managed to hold his serve and take the set. Gulbis was playing really well and so aggressively, and it wasn’t a surprise when he took the second. But once again Rafa stepped it up. I can’t remember what point it was in the third (I think it was 3-3) I shouted out “Come on Rafa, you can do it”! I was so pleased when he got to 5-4 and then really stepped it up to break Gulbis and take the match. It really showed his mental strength is back – he fought all the time, stayed aggressive and came through it, to much celebration. Once again four very happy girls went back to the apartment.
And so to Sunday…the last day. Could anything possibly match what we’d already experience. Well…yes! We spent the morning doing a bit of last minute sight-seeing (Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps again), and then caught the bus to the Foro Italico. We headed to the players’ entrance and saw lots of the ladies again – Serena Williams (beautiful and much smaller and slimmer in real life), Elena Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic.
Suddenly to shouts of “Rafa”, Rafa emerged from the locker rooms, flanked by security, and headed over towards the Players’ area (lounge) with a crowd of people following and signing autographs as he went. We waited at that entrance and after about 30-45 minutes Rafa came back out and did more autographs. I got my Rafa bullhorn cap signed and said “Good luck Rafa, you can do it- you can do it” and he looked straight at me and said “Thank you”. I was beside myself and my hands were absolutely shaking LOL. Clare got her Spanish flag signed by both Daveed and Rafa so it went nicely into her bag and we weren’t allowed to wave it during the match in case it got dirty!
And so to the match, which having seen it on TV was high quality, but it was so interrupted by rain it seemed very fragmented and we were all really nervous that it was going to carry over to the Monday when we were flying home and would have missed it. We were very happy when Rafa broke to take the first set 7-5 and then got the early break in the second before the rain came again. The second rain delay was loooooong. We went for a snack, and saw a couple of footballers (John Arne Riise who plays for Roma – and who we saw at three of Rafa’s matches!) and a Fiorentina player whose name escapes me now. :)
At last the rain covers came off and the players came back out – but incredibly the stadium was probably not even a quarter full by that point – most people had gone home! So there wasn’t so much of an atmosphere, but we whooped and cheered Rafa to another famous victory, and it was wonderful to see him bite the trophy again and then run around spraying Champagne. Of course he then had lots of on court interviews to do. And then, because he really is that lovely, he went round the whole of the court signing yet more autographs for his fans. By that point, as there was barely anyone around, we had run down from our seats in the upper stand and managed to get right to the front down the bottom, so I got my Final ticket signed and told him congratulations – he didn’t look at me this time LOL.
We all had an absolutely amazing time and came away feeling even more in awe of Rafa the man as much as Rafa the tennis player. He is so unselfish with his time, so kind to his fans, and really made the tournament as magical as it could possibly have been. This holiday absolutely surpassed anything that I had possibly hoped. I didn’t dare to dream that I would see Rafa bite the trophy but I did and it was the best thing ever.
If anyone gets the opportunity I’d highly recommend a trip to Rome, both for the city and for the tennis. It is fab!