It’s Valentine’s Day and this year, I want to tell you the story of how I fell in love with tennis. The ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament is one of those ATP 500 level tournaments that brings in the top tennis talent. Year after year the tournament draw is stacked big name players. This year’s list includes Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro, and Feliciano Lopez (well, not anymore), just to name a few. For me, this week of the year is a reminder of how much I love tennis. Two years ago, I walked into the AHOY Arena in Rotterdam on a Wednesday afternoon and purchased a ticket for the evening session. I was about to watch my first ever live tennis match. You might want to abandon reading this if you aren’t looking forward to hearing me wax poetic about the joys of live tennis.
I grew into my tennis fanaticism slowly, and by the time I realized my true love of our sport, I was living in St. Louis, Missouri. In case you’re not familiar with the tennis calendar, it doesn’t stop in St. Louis, or really anywhere even close. Then everything fell into place. I moved to London in January 2010 and as luck would have it I had a week off in February and nowhere to go. There was one obvious choice. I bought a ticket to Amsterdam that night and hopped a train to Rotterdam.
It was a short metro ride from the hotel to the stadium and I couldn’t have been more excited. This was what I had been waiting for, real live tennis. The players that I spent so much time reading about and watching on TV would finally be right in front of me. There was still about an hour before I could enter the stadium for the evening session, so I wandered around the massive indoor maze of AHOY to kill the time. That’s when I happened upon the practice courts. There were two of them in use, and I was mesmerized. This differs by tournament, but in Rotterdam the two main practice courts have a few rows of chairs on risers just about three feet from the short dividing wall between the players and their audience.
I plopped down in one of the empty seats, perhaps one of three people watching. More than an hour passed before I realized I’d watched two practice sessions and already missed the beginning of the evening’s main event. I was absolutely amazed, not just by how good these players really are, but by how much personality they had. Sure, some players have their quirks on court, but there’s only so much a player can do during a match. Some players were serious, some were pretty clowny, and some were downright strange.
I eventually made it to the main stadium. The first night, I had seats way up in the rafters (the stadium in Rotterdam is far larger than you would think). I think James Blake was playing Marcos Baghdatis. Again, I couldn’t have been happier, even if my view was far worse than it would have been watching the match on television. The atmosphere was great.
Anyway, you don’t need to hear more about my experience with live tennis. Just know that two days in Rotterdam became a weekend in Monte Carlo, a few days in Estoril, a sojourn in Paris, and trips to Newport, Washington, Toronto, and New York. That was just 2010. I left Rotterdam already making plans to watch my new favorite players, which was pretty much every player I saw that weekend. Sure, some of those have fallen by the wayside, but at least one of them stuck at a fanatical level. Someone I guarantee I never would have paid attention to unless I saw him live.
Now, why should you care about what a great time I had two years ago at a tournament most of you will never go near? You shouldn’t. But, I’d like to think that this experience resonates with some of you and encourages the rest of you to go out of your way a little. Book an impromptu trip to Shanghai or spend the next year planning your trip to Indian Wells. Just go watch some tennis.