[caption id=”attachment_34778” align=”alignright” width=”150” caption=”Photo by Nana/NatalieHOHO”][/caption]

My RG debut

[warning: this is long!]

In the grandest scheme of things, tennis is just a game and Rafa winning 7 Roland Garros titles was never going to be like finding a cure to cancer or ending famines. However, I live in a relatively peaceful world with mundane, minor concerns, being able to witness in person my hero making tennis his7ory is enough to fill me with such joy and hope that I feel the world is now a better place.

My trip to RG12 is perfect. It’s exceeded expectation in every way. The stars have aligned. I kept wondering what I need to do to “pay” for it, or maybe I already did by enduring a nasty cold for 2 months. Anyway, I decided last year I was going to RG in 2012, the first slam that drew me to tennis as a teenager. The drama started in February when I tried to buy tickets from the FFT. I originally wanted to get a 2nd week pass that would include possibly R4 to final tickets to Chatrier. But the pass was sold out after I cyber-queued for 2 hours. In a frenzy I got the 1st week pass and tickets to the women’s and men’s finals. So that’s how I ended up being in Paris for the entirety of the tournament. My first stroke of luck: I didn’t get the second week pass. I “had to” go to the first week as well.

A lot of tennis had happened before May. The fact that Rafa was able to defeat Djokovic in two clay finals eased my mind, and I was able to depart for Paris in good spirits. My only worry was my sinuses exploding in the air. But that didn’t happen so I was already grateful!

My tennis action started on the first Sunday. My first memories were Rafa practice and crowds and more crowds. RG didn’t release practice schedules so I had to find him or rely on friends. I was lucky to stumble on it that day because I saw a side court that was filled to the brim and there was a buzz. Meanwhile a twitter friend who was inside also texted me to confirm it. I ended up watching behind the fence. The hitting partner was Robin Haase. My vantage point was great because Rafa was sliding and hitting just a few feet from me. The forehands were scary in that proximity. At one point Haase’s ball burst through the edge of the fence and ended up in my hands. I was looking down and suddenly I had a ball. I must’ve looked silly astonished but anyway I passed it back. Rafa said sorry. It wasn’t his fault.

After these two weeks I truly understand the need for RG to expand. There wasn’t enough space to rest or do anything. Lines were long. And while I had access to a main court and outside courts, it was a bit impossible to get into the outside courts in the first week, as you would easily need to queue for an hour and that interfered with my main court schedule. Perhaps that’s a slam problem but it’s the first time I’ve been in one in the first week, so it’s a little regret that I didn’t get to see as many matches as I thought I would.

Back to Rafa tennis. I was at all of his matches! It still sounds incredible even now. They were pretty straightforward. So straightforward that he didn’t lose a set going into the final. He hardly ever got broken, maybe just once or twice pre-final! So the first six matches were quite frazzle free (saving all the frazzling for the final!). I did feel a tad nervous before the Almagro and Ferrer matches just because they’re such good players. Istomin gave Rafa a good match in my opinion although the score line did not reflect it. And I was sorry to witness Pico’s demolition. He tried very hard but it was mission impossible. Throughout these matches Rafa’s form was never in doubt. RG simply suits him. Maybe it’s the venue or the clay or the air or the feng shui. He’s the master of that house.

I was able to get to a few Rafa practice sessions thanks to my twitter buddies. They’re always enjoyable because of the smaller court. You never tire of his ferocious forehands zooming through the air. Sometimes he was stretching his junior hitting partners thin just after 10 minutes. Poor lads were out of breath just returning his shots. But I’m sure despite sore bodies the next day, these youngsters would treasure the opportunity forever. In the first week practice sometimes took place in an outside tennis club in the adjacent woods because RG courts were too busy. A few of us made the trek there specially on Rafa’s birthday hoping to catch him on the big day. We did see him but could only watch from outside the fence and he was a bit far. Our adventure in the woods also included a lion-like dog and tales of the Montreal killer who had been spotted hiding in there. So this is our background story of Rafa’s birthday practice.

(You can view Natalie’s photos in her twitter stream - miri.)

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