My Beautiful Dark Twisted Reality

DISCLAIMER: Covering the 2012 Rogers Cup in my native Montreal, a tournament which I have attended every summer for as long as I can remember, was an unbelievable experience on just about every level. It’s tough to put into words what those 10 days of August have meant to me, but still this is such an attempt. (As for my actual coverage, it’s all here.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012. 12:45 p.m.

Being a journalist means different things at different times and for now, it means waiting. I’m sitting down inside thePlace Ville-Marie commercial tower in the heart of downtown Montreal. My mouth is dry and I’m gasping for air–I’m thinking that maybe I should have stopped to buy a bottle of water. But let’s start 10 minutes ago.

I get off the subway at Bonaventure station and am on my way to the fitness centre Le 1000, but a voicemail message changes my plans. Someone had called me twice while I was underground, from a number that I don’t know and from an area code that I have never seen. The voice on the message has a strong British accent and tells me that, “Hi Charles, this is Tessa calling from the WTA just to let you know that I’d like to call you at 12:45 today with Tamira Paszek. I’ll try you again just before then to see if I can get a hold of you. So, talk to you then. Buh-bye.” She calls me again and, despite my surprise, I manage to say that, “Yes, I’d very much be interested with that interview if it’s still possible.” Tessa says, “Okay then, she’s talking to reporters right now but I’ll call you back in five or 10 minutes.”

Perfect, only now I need to find a quiet place to conduct an interview during lunch hour in downtown Montreal. I start running, not knowing where I’m heading really, and as I run I’m thinking about what this phone call means. On the Wednesday of the Rogers Cup, I had learned that I could request individual interviews with players, and I had promptly requested one with Paszek when she was still in Montreal–but she had left the day before the interview. When she left, she apparently learned about my request and was disappointed that she’d miss it. And she was the one who offered that we try to set up this phone interview at some point this week, when she’s in Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Open. I didn’t really believe it would happen but apparently, it just might.

After running up a set of stairs, down another, up another one, through the train terminal and the shopping mall surrounding it, up another set of stairs, through the Place Ville-Marieshopping mall and up a final set of stairs, I figure that this second floor is as quiet as anywhere I’ll find. Tessa calls me back a few minutes later and says that, “Unfortunately, (Paszek) left in a hurry but she’s giving another press conference in an hour-to-hour-and-a-half and so, would you still be interested?” I say that, “Yeah, of course,” and Tessa says that, “I’ll call you back then.”

Now, I realize that I will not work out like I had anticipated but why do I care? I’ll interview Tamira Paszek. I quickly find a pizza place to eat–I order pizza, in case you’re wondering–and I look over my questions for the interview at least 10 or 15 times before Tessa calls me back at 2:29 p.m. She says that, “Okay, Tamira Paszek would be available at 3:40.” I think to myself that this can’t be right and that she can’t possibly have said 3:40. “I’m sorry, when?” I ask her, but it turns out that I was right and it’s 3:40. I wish I had been wrong though, because my shift at the hospital starts at 3:30. Dang.

Sunday, August 5, 2012. 6:45 p.m.

Today, being a journalist means that I’m a groupie. Ana Ivanovic is standing just a few metres away and soon enough, I’ll get to interview her.

I’m inside the banquet hall of the third floor of the Fairmount Queen-Elizabeth Hotel for the official player party that usually doubles as the unofficial launch of the Rogers Cup. I never thought I’d be invited to this event, where “WTA players (and Quebec celebrities) will walk the red carpet from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.” according to the official invitation. That’s when the media will get to interview the players as well, after they have posed for pictures, and that’s how I’ll get to interview Ivanovic (i.e. she’s a player, and I’m a journalist).

She has finished with Radio-Canada Sports, RDS and now TVA Sports, and it’s my turn. Ivanovic, like pretty much every tennis player, is as stunning off the court as she is on the court. She has traded her usual Adidas sportswear tonight for a black dress, and her hair hangs loosely on her left side. She stands 6-foot-1 but tonight, she’s wearing four- or five-inch heels. As I say hi, I realize that she’s towering over me, and I’m 6-foot-2. It’s intimidating. Here is the entirety of our interview:

“Hi Ana, you look rather lovely tonight. This dress works wonders and how about these heels! My, oh my!

-Thanks, I could say the same to you. Your blue shirt truly brings out the best in your facial features.

-Thank you, that’s exactly what I was going for.

-Oh, CBG. You’re making me blush. Like Rihanna says, where have you been all my life?”

Right, except that the actual conversation unfolded pretty much the exact opposite way:

“Hi, Ana. How special is Montreal considering that this is the place of the first breakthrough you’ve had on Tour?

-Yeah, it is very special and it brings back a lot of good memories to be back here. I remember every single week of that year, and I really hope I can do well again.

-And secondly, is this more comfortable or the tennis suit?

-Tennis shoes are a bit more comfortable, but it’s nice to get dressed up and be a little more girly sometimes and wear a dress.

-Thank you, I appreciate it.”

From the moment we say hi to the end, it’s about one minute–that’s all I could manage. My knees were weak but somehow I survived.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012. 1:45 p.m.

Today, being a journalist means that I concede defeat to everyone’s favourite enemy, Sasha Vujacic. I’m sitting down at a table along with many other reporters, and Vujacic’s girlfriend, Maria Sharapova, stands a little to my right. Sharapova might pull out of the Rogers Cup the following day, but that’s for later. For now, she’s candidly answering media questions–notably about the gold medal match against Serena Williams who beat her 6-0 and 6-1. “Getting a silver medal and participating in my first Olympics was a dream of mine since I was young,” she says. In the past hour, I’ve had the chance to meet and interview Angelique Kerber (No. 6 on WTA Tour rankings), Sam Stosur (No. 7), Petra Kvitova (No. 5) and, after Sharapova, I will meet No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka.

Sharapova is surprisingly willing in the media scrum. It’s as if she’s at the very least told herself that, “Well, I’m here so I might as well answer questions.” She talks about her Olympics loss: “(Serena Williams) has been playing such confident tennis throughout the last few months”; about her Grand Slam titles: “I’m fortunate that the four that I won are all different…They’re unique in their own different ways, I always had considered the French Open to be the toughest one for me to win just because I never felt physically ready until a few years ago”; and about getting back to World No. 1: “It was important after my injuries, I felt like I had to work for it…There was a lot on the line during those two weeks (in Paris).”

For me, it’s a quick brush with greatness, but truly it never gets old.

Friday, August 10, 2012. 10:11 p.m.

Today, I’m a journalist and it means that I’m typing frantically at the keys on my laptop–today, being a journalist means that I’m rewriting.

Precisely six hours and 19 minutes earlier, I was watching Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak battle American Christina McHale. Perhaps to avenge the crushing defeat of the Canadian women’s soccer team in London, Wozniak was on the verge of winning the match, serving up 7-6 and 5-2, when play was halted because of rain. The forecast had been for heavy rain all day but for a while, it seemed like it might have been wrong–until 3:52 p.m. when the rain started to fall. Hard. Over the next several hours, my seat inside the press gallery at Uniprix Stadium became my sanctuary. All I was left with was the sad realization that in a summer where there seemingly had been no rain, it was, yes, rain that was hijacking the schedule of the latter portion of the Rogers Cup.

The tournament staff sent the reporters some weather updates every 30 minutes, and my hope was that Wozniak and McHale would complete their match before play was cancelled for the day. That’s what all of us from the media wished, and that’s how I decided to write my day 7 recap for Tennis Connected in my “Rogers Cup in La belle province” series–my lede said that Wozniak had beat McHale. Once I was done writing, I went on Twitter and looked for different ways to describe how the rain was raining.

(As a side-note, I must confess that my Twitter use was a clear highlight of the Rogers Cup experience. I tweeted probably more during the Rogers Cup than at any other  point since I joined in early 2010, with at the very least 600 total tweets related to the tournament. I gained probably 15 new followers–again, a personal best–and much to my surprise, they have stuck with me after the tournament ended and despite myself  going back to being little more than a glorified Jschool student. To all of my followers who did stick with me, I appreciate it. A lot. Twitter helped me further establish myself, my brand and my name, and my #TamiraWatch, #AnaWatch and #MariaWatch for Tamira Paszek, Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova respectively, along with reviews of on-site and nearby food options (i.e. yes to McDonald’s salads, no to on-site pizza. M’eh to Grand Slam hotdogs), were all apparently popular enough. And at the very least, they came in handy for a rainy day such as today.)

This lengthy rain delay was also the perfect time to mingle with who I hope will soon be my future colleagues, the fellow reporters inside the press gallery. This was perhaps the greatest and most important, if not the most glamorous, part of covering the tournament. I can tell you that just about any time is right to apply for a Winter internship at Radio-Canada Sports, dixit Radio-Canada’s own Diane Sauvé. I can testify that the Gazette’s Pat Hickey is a human Wikipedia about any- and everything that has to do with sports. I also talked with Sun Media’s Brian Daly on a range of topics, including the fact that he was once a Ryerson Jschooler like I currently am. Brian told me that quite clearly, “You’ll break in the mainstream media soon because you’ve got a good personality.” (Sadly, he’s a better man than I am as I completely forgot to name him an honourary member of the #FunTimesAtJschool marching band.)

At around 8:30 p.m., the rain had stopped, the Centre Court had been dried off and Wozniak and McHale had been brought back to the court. They had warmed up before chair umpire Mariana Alves had told the crowd that Wozniak would be serving, when the rain had started raining again. Yikes. #StayWinning (i.e. another of my Twitter creations specifically for the Rogers Cup), only the exact opposite.

It’s only at 10:11 p.m. that play is officially called for the day and that all matches are postponed to tomorrow morning. This means that I need to rewrite my recap as soon as possible, without any quotes from the match and instead find ones from earlier that week when Wozniak spoke to reporters. I do it quickly enough, file my story and walk back to the De Castelnau subway station to go home. I spent 12 hours inside Uniprix Stadium today, and 6:19 of that was spent watching the rain, well, rain. But it has stopped now. There’s no more rain.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012. 3:48 p.m.

Right now, I’m again waiting for a phone call. Earlier, after telling Tessa that I had “prior engagements” and that, “I couldn’t make an interview for 3:40, but I appreciate you taking the time trying to set this up, thank you,” I walked back to Bonaventure station and boarded the subway. But all along, I wondered what I was doing. My dream has always been to become a sports reporter and now that I had the chance to tell the story behind one of my favourite tennis players, I decided not to because I had to work? Three stops later, I got off at Champ-de-Mars station, and called Tessa back. No answer. I called again, and left her a voicemail message this time, explaining that, “Yes, Hi Tessa. It’s Charles Blouin-Gascon calling from Montreal. I managed to work something out on my end and so, I would still very much be interested in that interview with Tamira Paszek if it’s still possible.”

She called me back at 3:29 p.m. and said that, “Hi Charles, yes I have listened to your voicemail message and so, you are still interested correct?” I say that, “Yes, if it’s still possible.” Tessa says perfect and that, “I’ll call you back in 15 minutes, this time with Tamira Paszek.”

It’s 3:49 p.m. when my phone rings. Tessa tells me something that I don’t quite understand so I ask her to repeat. When I still don’t quite understand her, I decide to play it safe and say something like, “Oh sure. That works.” The line goes silent for a few seconds until someone talks. It’s Tamira Paszek. “Finally. We made it!” She says that, not me–though I’m certainly thinking it by then.

Today, I’m a journalist. This is my reality, and I don’t think that I can ever tire of this. Don’t call it luck though–I’m fortunate to have had the chance to cover the 2012 Rogers Cup, but it’s not luck because I know how much I have worked for such an opportunity. No week has ever motivated me this much, and I will strive a little more each day to have another week like this one. Next year, the men will be in Montreal for the Rogers Cup. This means that I’ll get to meet Novak Djokovic–I need to wrap my mind around this.