Last Monday, I had the chance to go to the first round of the SAP Open – a professional tennis tournament located in San Jose that brings together the best worldwide male players for a week.
While waiting for my Media entrance pass, I saw Gael Monfils’ coach – a French top player – one yard from me asking for a pass from the staff men. I was tempted to talk to him in French but he looked like he was in a rush and I could not wait to go to the press room and act like a professional journalist.
I took an elevator to go to a superior level and I felt intimidated by all the staff members, the players, the coaches and the security guards rushing in this labyrinth. Finally, I saw a room with a sign indicating ‘Press Room,” but I guess it was a mistake because when I walked in, it actually was a dining room for the staff, the media and the officials.
I decided to stay to eat and watch the end of the game of one of my favorite players – the American James Blake – on a flat screen. Blake won easily and with style 7-5, 6-2 against Jesse Levine – a player coming out from the qualifiers. After the end of the match I went to the “real” press room where journalists and photographers were setting up for the next exhibition match, Gael Monfils against Pete Sampras – a tennis legend.
On my way to the bleachers reserved for the media, I passed by the player lounge, and with my camera around my wrist I tried to see if there were any famous players; unfortunately, the doors were closed and my pass did not allow me to get in. When I sat, I noticed that there were many people – between 350 and 400 – for a Monday night.
Before the exhibition match started, fourteen players were introduced, some including Xavier Malisse, Gael Monfils, Pete Sampras and Verdasco. Every time the speaker introduced a player, the crowd screamed hysterically and applauded; whereas the other sports journalists next to me would keep a serious air, scrutinizing the scene and taking some notes nervously. Only some journalists applauded at the end of the national anthem.
The match finally started. Sampras played his traditional game – serve-volley – making some amazing shots that I used to watch on T.V., and Monfils showed great physical skills as usual. The two players played points looking like real exhibition ones – they would make each other run everywhere on the court and finish the point after 10 or 15 balls, whereas in a real professional match they would have finished the same point after only 5 or 7 balls. They would play with the public, asking for cheers or advice, and make funny comments about Sampras’ age.
I could hear some voices cheering for Monfils, although the majority of the public patriotically supported Sampras – but still with respect and fair-play toward the French player who won the first set 7-6 (4).
In the second set, the two men were still trying to entertain the public. Some of the funniest moments were when Monfils took a camera from a cameraman sitting next to the net, and that he pretended to take pictures of Sampras, who was posing like a real super-model, or when Monfils gave his own camera to a ball boy to take a picture of himself and Sampras during a break.
Finally, Monfils won the second set 6-4. “It was great to play against Pete,” he said during the press conference. “I have no words to describe the experience, because he is a legend to me; playing against Pete was better than playing a fifth set in the finals of U.S. Open.”
Sampras had as many positive things to say about the French player. “It was great to play against Gael who is a great athlete with great features; he’s got a successful future but I did the best I can not to embarrass myself (laughs), and I appreciated all the support.”
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