Witnessing HIS7ORY Part 2
[warning: this is long!]
I think I always knew it was going to be a Nadal-Djokovic final. Maybe it’s my 6th sense or the belief that things always have to be done the hard way. I had been so incredibly lucky the whole trip that I was wondering if a happy ending was too much to hope for. However in my heart I had faith in Rafa and knew he had it in him to get this win against his toughest opponent yet. After all it’s RG we’re talking about.
Djokovic’s form has not been as impressive as last year but we know how much he wants his own history made and the fact that he came through tough matches could only fuel him. After he beat Federer on Friday, I was getting nervous. I didn’t know how I could survive the next two days, and little did I know that it was actually going to be three days of tension and anxiety! On Saturday I went to Sharapova’s final and caught Rafa’s practice session. It was a pretty relaxed one with a long serve practice so I also relaxed a bit. Tio Miguel Angel was there too. It always touches me knowing how much his extended family loves and supports him. Later I saw Maria completing her career slam. She’s my WTA fave although I don’t watch much. I was touched by her celebration and the ceremony, which only added to my anxiety knowing how much I wanted it for Rafa too.
Sunday. D-day. Rafa came out firing and secured a double break, only to be levelled back. I was focusing on the match, cheering loud and fighting the crowd and the weather. Don’t get me wrong, there were lots and lots of Rafa fans in the stadium, but the nasty ones were always the loudest. A lot was going on during those hours. Looking back I might not have been as nervous as I would be if watching on TV. There was too much distraction.
There were three players in the final, the weather being one. On Sunday they were playing in consistent rain for two hours. I already complained about the decisions RG made – scheduling it so late at 3pm giving themselves no buffer, while forecast said rain would start around then and it did! I was also bewildered they didn’t cover the court during the first rain delay. It was clear the court was getting soaked! They resumed play but rain never stopped. So you could totally see court conditions were deteriorating, along with Rafa’s play.
As it was clear that the poor conditions were affecting Rafa (and in no way players should play in these conditions), I was hoping play would not resume when they had to break for the second time. This ruined many fans’ plans as many were leaving the next day. What a pity it was for them! I was luckily not affected, but the fact that Rafa was down a break in the fourth set was enough to send me into despair. It was the most bizarre day with plenty of drama on all fronts.
I went back to the apartment trying to prepare myself for the next day. Slept little and there was even a split second of doubt – that perhaps it’d be best if I didn’t go at all. However I immediately banished this whisper from the devil. Of course I couldn’t be that cowardly! On Monday I was with more colm. Prepared for the worst but most importantly I hoped and believed. Off to RG I went.
Everyone said the best possible scenario was for Rafa to break immediately back to get even in the set. And he did. I can’t describe what a relief that was but that didn’t mean I could relax. I was tense and nervous throughout, cheering and fighting the crowd again. It was only when I got home to watch the highlights that I realised how tight the 4th set was. My memory of it was a total blur. I blocked everything out and my sole existence was to cheer for Rafa on every point. When there was a short rain delay after it’d been drizzling for a while, I was despondent. Then they resumed and the sun came out. I felt a surge of hope but didn’t dare to dwell. The last few games could’ve gone either way but it was down to Rafa’s determination that he held serves and finally got the MP. And he only needed one, as Djokovic double faulted. Rafa dropped to the ground. I jumped and yelled and squealed. A crazy woman. I didn’t take any pictures prior to this point, but after MP I tried to capture the moment. I took a video of Rafa’s climb to his box. It was shaky because I was shaking. I made sure I didn’t make a sound as I knew it would be recorded. But in my video I heard myself squeal. I think that’s what you call out of control.
I saw Maria’s ceremony the day before but Rafa’s was of course more emotional for me. Even from afar I could tell this meant so much to him. His celebration with his people told us that. I stayed in the stadium until Rafa had left the court. That took him a long time as he had to do many interviews, pose with trophy, linesmen and ball kids, and sign a million stuff. He simply knew what to do. He went to the podium and bit the ear of the trophy, and turned 360 degrees for everyone to see. And he knew how to pose with it. Put it on his thigh, cradle it, hold it high. (It was only later that I found out he bumped the trophy into his face) If that was seventh heaven, I had just been carried there from purgatory. I don’t know how to describe the joy. Joy for Rafa and joy for myself for being there, grateful and content with life.
Afterwards I went to catch up with Emilie and Mathilde, my twitter buddies. We waited at the player exit hoping Rafa might come out that way. We had so much fun just reliving the moment and making fun of haters (yes now we could laugh). We saw Toni leave but were told to go before we could see Rafa because they were closing the grounds. We didn’t want to be locked in until RG 2013 so we exited. Many people were still waiting outside where his car would leave.
Emilie later saw a tweet from a journo saying Rafa would take trophy pix in Paris on a bridge with the Eiffel Tower in the background. When we arrived a handful of fans and photographers were there, along with some tourists. There was even a couple having their wedding photos taken. I wonder if they later found Rafa in their background! Anyway, Rafa came, along with his team and family. The shoot was quick, like 10 minutes, with Rafa coming and going like a whirlwind. There were many photographers doing their job so I tried to stay out of the way and stood back on a raised platform for a better view. A photographer was next to me. I took a few pix and he said my hand blocked him, so I stopped. Then I looked over to my right and saw Maymo doing the same thing. And the photographer told him the same thing. Obviously he didn’t know Maymo was the official Team Nadal photographer ;) At that point I really wanted to say thanks to Maymo for taking care of Rafa. But I’m a shy person when it comes to things like that so I didn’t. Useless.
After they left, we stayed on for a bit. I, the tourist, began taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower, the metro, the pretty clouds and everything under the sun. Then suddenly Emilie said “he’s still here”. I turned around and saw Rafa. Apparently he returned after the crowd had cleared so he could pose with his family/team. Emilie thought it was a good moment to ask for a pic as there weren’t many people. I hesitated (shyness took hold again) but after I took a pic for her and Rafa, she asked for me too although I was ready to say something, if only he could hear me. So I had my pic taken with Rafa too. Afterwards we saw Team Nadal took some happy pix, and then Rafa also took pix with the photographers, who were simply delighted. I wonder if we will ever see that team photo. There were quite a few photographers so it didn’t seem to be just for their own private collection. Giddily we watched them on the side while still coming to grips with what had just happened. We couldn’t believe it.
So that ended my RG12 adventure. It was perfect and I was lucky many times over. However, the most important thing is to see Rafa win that trophy. The other experiences are a huge bonus but if I ever had to choose, I’d be just as happy simply to be there to witness the win. I chose a very emotional year to come and it could’ve gone terribly wrong. I thank heavens and Rafa for giving me these special memories. Will cherish them for a long long time.
Rafa was put on Suzanne Lenglen twice this year. This created a huge ticketing scramble for fans with Chatrier tickets. Anyway, they had their reasons to put him there and we had our reasons to complain, but luckily again, in the end I managed to see both matches. I actually liked the court because it’s smaller and we were closer to the action, and the tickets were cheaper! There is not a bad seat in that court. My seats were superb and I enjoyed both matches very much. Rafa owns that court as well so I was just as happy to be there.
The RG crowd
Rafa and RG. It’s complicated. In my opinion he is popular there judging by the size of the crowd in his practice sessions, and the excitement of kids in his presence. At matches there were many Rafans but also too many nasty ones who riled me up. One of them was belting out praises to Djokovic in Spanish, and another kept yelling motivational advice to him taken from A Quote A Day. Some didn’t respect etiquette and talked during points as if they’re commentators or linesmen, and hissed and booed at the slightest chance. They gave off a medieval, mob-like vibe.
Overall I didn’t feel overwhelming hostility towards Rafa as I had prepared myself for. But that could also be because he was winning. I have a feeling that it’d take a near upset to tip them completely over, which I was feeling a bit in the latter stage of the final.
My RG buddies
Fellow Rafans always make tennis so much more enjoyable and I was able to get to several of the practice sessions because of them. It’s been such a pleasure and privilege to share these special moments with Emilie, Adeline, Mathilde, Liz, Quynh and hubby, Christina, Teresa and her mum, and the ladies from Vamosbrigade who came to the first rounds. Hope to see them all again soon!
(You can view Natalie’s photos in her twitter stream – miri.)