A week with the beautiful game

DISCLAIMER: This column was originally published in 2011.

Novak Djokovic won the 2011 Rogers Cup in thrilling fashion, beating Mardy Fish in three sets of 2-6, 6-3 and 6-4. Much like most of the readers (i.e. just a hunch, at least), I was not in attendance for Djokovic’s victory but rather stuck at work.

Yet unlike most of my readers (i.e. again, the same hunch), I could have been in attendance. More so than being about the world’s no. 1 continuing dominance (53-1 in 2011 so far), that is what this blog post is about.

Let me blunt and say that I am spoiled and have been for a long time.

In fact, I have been in attendance, every summer, for the Rogers Cup for as long as I can remember. (I don’t say this to brag — readers who know me outside of ‘A man must have a code’ know that I have always preferred humbleness to bragging rights.) I have been going for so long that at first, the Rogers Cup was a minor tournament sponsored by a tobacco giant where fans were lucky to see one or two top players compete; it was named the du Maurier Open. I was there when Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Monica Seles competed in the 1998 final (even scrambling, after the match, to get Seles’s autograph as she left the stadium); when Michael Chang was still a dominant player; when Chris Woodruff beat Gustavo Kuerten for the 1997 title — you might wonder who exactly Chris Woodruff is, and that’s exactly my point. I have been going for so long that many years ago, I became smitten with a WTA player (as every teenager should at some point), one Elena Dementieva.

Needless to say, other than for the final weekend of the event I was also there for the 2011 tournament; this is where I start my bragging.

When you read that I was/am there, I don’t imply that I sit in the bleachers. I mean that for all of the matches that I have watched, I have been sitting courtside or just about: row H, where I’m with the big boys. Uniprix, which has given its name to the stadium, is next to me. Desjardins & NAPA are right in front of me on row G while Cascades, a giant of the paper industry, is on row E. From such a privileged vantage point, I have seen many things happen. I also can, with all sincerity, say that the hype surrounding Anna Kournikova was well warranted.

Obviously, a mere journalism student can’t afford such luxurious seats and all thanks, here, for these go to the father. Growing up, I probably took those visits at Uniprix Stadium as a right rather than a privilege more than once, and I deeply apologize that I did.

Forget what you heard about soccer, football or futbol; there’s only one beautiful game and it is tennis. The sport pits two opponents trying to outduel, outwit, outmaneuver or outsmart the other to win points, games, sets and, eventually, a match. It combines intelligence, tactics, endurance, power and grace, usually on every shot. Two men are trying to beat the opponent; in many ways, every man is for himself and by himself, with his inner thoughts offering solace or torment compared to the many thousands pairs of eyes watching his every move. For every match, there is one winner and one loser, and the winner’s only privilege is that he must start again the following day. And the following one should he win again, and so on until there is no match left to be played and the tournament has crowned one champion and 63 (or 127 in the case of the four Grand Slam tournaments) losers. Welcome to the good life, as Kanye West says.

For now however, let us go back to Uniprix Stadium.

Between matches, fans can be treated to overpriced hot dogs and old nachos; after those hot dogs and nachos, they can go shop on the ‘Promenade du sportif’ and spend more of their hard-earned money – I chose Djokovic’s great Sergio Tacchini shirt and Roger Federer’s Lunar Vapor 8 shoes; in between those shopping binges, they can head to the practice courts to see some of their favourite players. Female readers of this post might be interested in knowing that on Monday, I saw Rafael Nadal practice with his shirt off but in his defence, Monday was a very warm day in Montreal.

Often, fans can receive scoops before everybody else simply by heading to those practice courts. Like the one about Marcos Baghdatis having shaved his head. I wish I had one on the aforementioned Spaniard to bolster the readership count, but all that I have is this: he is a very, very strong tennis player who makes me feel very, very bad about my own abilities at the sport. But, that’s hardly newsworthy.

In more ways than one, the experience at the Rogers Cup is quite humbling every year. In 2011, the tennis player that I thought I was marveled at Nadal’s relentless drive, at Djokovic’s regularity and aggression and at Ivo Karlovic’s serve, he of the 6’10″ frame. After the 2011 edition – as I seem to understand after every year but quickly forget – I know that while I may look like a tennis player as I make my way to the court, that’s really as close as I come.

And you know what? There’s really nothing wrong with that.