Dianne at Indian Wells
This was my first trip to Indian Wells. I had heard many great things about this tournament and was excited to see why players and fans loved it so much. Actually, this was my first visit to California and my grown daughter came with me. She’s also a huge tennis fan and had many favorites on her list to see. We arrived in Palm Springs on Friday, March 9th, coming into Palm Springs Airport and got our rental car. The first thing we noticed out of the airport were mountains! We had never seen them before and were in awe of the sky and the palm trees. The weather was beautiful!
We didn’t have tickets to the tournament for Friday, just drove around and got settled in. Saturday morning we were up and ready to go. The drive to the tournament was an easy one, down one street the whole way. Parking was very organized, entering the tournament was simple, no lines, but we got there about noon. They quickly checked out bags, scanned our tickets and we were in! We looked around and said “We’re here!” And then said “What do you want to do first?” We decided to head over to the practice courts. They have an electronic board listing every practice and what court it will be on. We saw a few players practicing, took photos, walked over to the grass area where they play soccer sometimes. We caught Bob Bryan signing along the fence and politely telling every other person, “I’m Bob”, when they asked “Which one are you?” Gilles Simon’s son was toddling around the grass. Richard Gasquet stepped right in front of me. There is a very casual, relaxed feeling about Indian Wells. Players seem to feel it too as they whiz by on a golf cart waving after a match.
Then we noticed it was almost time for Juan Monaco’s match against Mahut, so we walked over the smaller court and we pleasantly surprised we could get a really close seat. It was a great match, he won and we were happy. I loved how you could see the top players on the smaller courts during the week, very intimate and if you come early enough you can even get a seat in the front row. We did that a few times, I was in shock most of the time. I have never been that close. You can hear them talking to themselves after a point, or whispering strategy to their doubles partner. It was fantastic. One of my favorite moments was watching Andy Murray and Jamie Murray play doubles. Before every point, Andy turned to Jamie behind him and said, “We got this one.” Every single time. We also saw Juan Monaco and Kei Nishikori a few times. Pico would give Kei a little rub on the head after a good point, it was sweet. They really played well together.
Sunday was the first day I saw Rafa, he was playing against Leonardo Mayer and for that day we had general admission but found out we could get in to Stadium 1 if seats were available and there were many. I don’t know what happened to me, but the moment I saw Rafa come out of the tunnel and walk to his seat I had goose bumps on my legs and arms. Then I felt my eyes tear up. It was finally hitting me that I was here. My daughter chuckled and said “Oh my goodness, this happened to you in Cincinnati, we’re not even close up!” And we laughed. I’ve only seen him one other time before this tournament so maybe the reality of it all makes me emotional. We cheered, took photos and he won with no problems. It was a good start to the week. I hope I never get used to seeing him and always have that reaction.
Monday was the first time we saw Team Cuteness, and we were ready. We knew you had to get there early for a good seat, so we scurried up the stairs and into the bleachers and plopped ourselves down for a long time. We made sure to have everything we needed for a few hours, and it was a long wait but worth it. We saw Rafa fans with flags, signs, and shaking pom poms. My daughter said coming to a tennis tournament is a little bit like being on Survivor, and I had to agree. But fun! Stay hydrated, but not so much that you have to leave to use the restroom. Make sure you have eaten before because you may be there a long time. Bring a blanket, scarf, or light jacket. It gets cold at night. We were in the sun, but I wanted a seat facing their chairs so I suffered through the heat. I fanned myself with my cardboard fan. Ana Ivanovic was playing a match that went on for hours, and the crowd was getting restless. We all knew Rafa and Marc were coming out next and the atmosphere was electric. Finally, it was time! By now, the sun was down, it was getting chilly but we were happy, and it became a night match. There is something so special about seeing Rafa play doubles with Marc! He is playful, smiley, just loving the game and it shows. There is a bounce in his step, his face comes alive. He shows emotions he doesn’t when he plays singles. They giggle, snort, and grimace. When they introduced them, the crowd goes wild. A shy smile and wave from both Marc! and Rafa as they come on the court. When one makes a mistake and is discouraged, a pat on the back or a “low-five” seems to make it better. They take bathroom breaks together, which I found hilarious. My daughter says “I see Box Cuteness!” at every match and they were always there. Roig, Maymo, Benito, and Tomeu. One day it was so hot that Maymo and Tomeu had white towels draped over their heads and put their caps on top of them. His loyal Box Cuteness.
Team Cuteness wins the match, everyone is on their feet and clapping cheering, chanting for Rafa and Marc. They sign a few balls and Rafa hits one into the crowd as a man trips and stumbles to the ground trying to catch it. Rafa puts his hands to his head and runs over to the man to see if he’s okay. He is, and someone snaps a quick picture as Rafa gives the man a hug. Next to me is a little girl who is about four years old and is convinced Rafa is her uncle. “Vamos Uncle Rafa!” she yells out in between points. I hear her say, “That’s my uncle, Rafa.” Wouldn’t everyone want an Uncle Rafa? She was adorable. The woman sitting next to us asked us to send her some photos of the match. No problem for us, and as she gives us her email address, she hands us two front row box seats for the main stadium. Says she’s going home and we could have them. That was a fun night.
The next day was Tuesday and my first Rafa practice. Some fans have already been there waiting for him to arrive, but we came after he started. I slip through a few people standing and catch a seat on the top bleacher. I’m excited I can see him so close. He looks taller and slimmer in person. Then all of the sudden, a few people up front leave and someone says to me “Go, go, go! Scoot!” and taps me on the shoulder.. I quickly move to the front row and start taking as many pictures as I can. The crowd is silent while Rafa practices. My daughter says to me “Watching Rafa is like having a newborn baby.” Look! He coughed. Quick take a picture, he sneezed! He has an itch on his nose!” Every little thing he does is entertaining. We are a strange group. He ends practice, signs autographs and walks out of sight while the mob of teens, middle-aged women and grandmothers chase after him. I don’t know how he does it, but he does. Rafa played Marcel Granollers that day and won.
On Wednesday, we stopped to see Juan Monaco “Pico” practice. We had an article about him that was in a magazine and were hoping to get it signed. After practice, he started jogging away and my daughter said “Pico, Pico, can you sign? He motioned he was sort of in a hurry but looked at the magazine and said “Is it me?” and we said “Yes!” He stopped, smiled, and signed the page. Then as he began to run off again, he stopped for a second, turned around, smiled and said “Ciao!” And off he went. That evening we saw Team Cuteness again play Paes/Stepanek and were really worried about that match but they won and were in the semifinals, which was very exciting. .” We went to find something to eat. The tournament had a nice selection of food. There were many healthy choices; salads, fruit cups, fish. However, I seemed to gravitate towards the huge plate of chicken nachos every day.
Thursday I caught Rafa practicing again by chance. I was walking past the court and there he was. He signed my green bandana that day. I didn’t plan it, but there were not a lot of people around and I thought this chance may not happen again. As he stood in front of me and carefully signed while he held it steady, I looked up at him and realized how big he is. Kind of took my breath away. I said quietly, “Thank you Rafa”. On Friday, we sat with clenched fists along with other Rafa fans and I held on to my lucky Mallorcan pendant I wore every day, praying he could come back and win the quarterfinal and he did. Saturday we had some bad weather but we were still there in a huddle ready to Vamos!
We saw Rafa play a total of nine times during the week and I feel very fortunate we were there to see him in the final and win the doubles title with Marc! on Sunday. Seeing the joy on his face as he bit that trophy with Marc! after they ran and hugged each other was the perfect end to a wonderful week in Indian Wells.