A Spectator’s Dream

Written By: achangeofends - Mar• 01•10

Like I mentioned in my introductory post, I’m living in London for the next several months. The invention of low cost airlines and the almost ridiculous security check I had to endure before starting my job afforded me the opportunity to visit the ABN AMRO ATP 500 event in Rotterdam a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been very busy for the last few weeks and haven’t had much time to write about my experience there. Since it’s already been so long, I’m sure you could all look up the fact that Robin Soderling won the tournament and any other relevant details that interest you. However, I would still like to share some of my observations.

First of all, I’ve never been to one of the small ATP tournaments and I could not have been more excited. I traveled to Rotterdam on my own after visiting a friend in Amsterdam for a day or two and checked into my hotel. The players all stay at the Manhattan Hotel in Rotterdam, the only 5 star hotel in the city. If you want the full experience, it would probably be great fun to stay there, but by the time I booked, it was already full and I’m fairly certain it was out of my price range anyway. I stayed at the Golden Tulip Inn, which was absolutely fantastic and more reasonably priced. I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting this tournament as it is a very convenient commute to the venue.

When I arrived, I decided to settle in and get the layout of the city instead of going to the day session on Wednesday. Instead, I decided to try out the Wednesday night session and the Thursday day session. I could not find very good tickets online and decided to try my luck at the box office. I highly recommend this strategy. The tickets online never seem to be as good as the tickets you get the day before the event at the box office. The best available tickets for the night session were not very good (because I arrived approximately two hours before the matches started), but I got one of the best seats in the house (excluding VIPs) for the day session.

If you ever plan on going to a smaller tournament, be sure to check the schedule of play. For instance, there are only two matches in the night session at Rotterdam. This means that your seat assignment for main court is very important. However, during the day session, there are usually matches going on on Centre Court and Court 1, sometimes even Court 2. There is no assigned seating on Court 1 and I found that almost no one bothered to watch the matches on that court. This meant that I consistently got to sit in the front row directly behind the players. At this point, it barely mattered to me who was playing, I was getting to see incredible tennis from less than 10 feet away. I even decided to forgo my awesome Centre Court seat for the Monfils match to watch Benneteau/Berrer match on Court 1. I even noticed Florian Mayer sitting in the stands and taking in the match on his off day. I felt bad squandering such a great seat, so I did head over to Centre Court to watch the Youzhny/Ilhan match, some of the Djokovic/Chiudinelli match, and the Robredo/Lopez vs Nestor/Zimonjic doubles match.

All the matches were great to watch, but by far the best part of this tournament was the opportunity for interacting with the players. You may not be as excited about meeting the players as I am, but I had a fantastic time wandering around seeing who I would run into. Immediately upon entering the tennis facility on Wednesday night, I decided to explore a little. I eventually happened upon Court 2, which happens to be the practice court that most of the players use. As I walked right up to the edge of the court, probably only 5 feet from the player, I realized that I was one of maybe 6 people watching Tommy Robredo prepare for his match. It was truly incredible how few people bothered to come watch the players practice. I honestly preferred it to match play because I was able to get so close to the action and I got to see a lot more of the players’ personalities because they were much less serious than they would have been during an actual match.

Note to potential attendees: Take a look at the draw before the tournament and look at pictures of players. I’m familiar with most of the players in the top 100, but many of the players look different in person. Since you can’t identify who might be famous based on the amount of people crowding around them, it might be a good idea to take a look at some of the players’ photos if you want to be able to recognize them. Unlike at major tournaments, most of the players are not surrounded by large groups of fans and they generally don’t ask security to escort them anywhere. The only exceptions to the large crowd rule that I found in Rotterdam were Djokovic and Davydenko and even then, a ‘large crowd’ meant about 20 people. I’m not very pushy and didn’t want to intrude on any of the players’ practice time, so if I can get autographs, anyone can. If you want pictures with the players, you may have to be a little more forward and you’re definitely going to need a friend who’s prepared to take them.

Now that I’ve rattled through all of my tips, I’d just like to share some of my favorite parts of my visit.
  • Watching Michael Llodra/Andy Ram practice for their doubles match – I’ve never been a huge fan of Michael Llodra before and I barely knew who Andy Ram was (I had to look up who Llodra’s partner was for the doubles to figure out who I was watching), but I had a surprisingly good time watching this particular practice. Of all the players I watched, Llodra and Ram definitely had the most personality and I was getting a bit of a private show since I was actually the only person watching. They joked around a lot and Llodra even broke out into song a couple of times. At the end of the practice, they walked off the court to about where I was standing and it was super easy to walk up and say hello, and get an autograph. They weren’t in a hurry and seemed happy to stop for a second.
  • Robin Soderling eventually went on to win the tournament, but I stopped by one of his mid-week practices just as it was ending and managed to get an autograph. After reading all of the tennis gossip, I expected Soderling to be a little surly and unsocial, but he was perfectly happy to stop and take pictures with fans. He was a bit quiet, but didn’t seem at all unfriendly.
  • Apparently Monfils prefers to play soccer as a warm-up to actually playing tennis. He spent at least 50% of his practice time playing soccer with 3 members of his entourage. He’s another fun player to watch and fairly interactive with the crowd. At some point he went behind the netting on the outside of the court, picked up a ball and hit it right at me. I think there may have been some laughing when I couldn’t catch it and let it roll away. I’d like to assume he was trying to give me a souvenir, not hit me in the face. However he would not sign any autographs or take any pictures after practice and asked security to escort him back to the players’ area. I think this might have been due to the timing of his match though, so I won’t count him out as unfriendly yet.
  • Tommy Robredo somehow seemed to be everywhere, and his practice with doubles partner Feliciano Lopez was particularly nice to watch. They’re both good singles players and they had a fun routine. Robredo would intensely run around the court, stretch out, and hit with his coach, while Lopez spent at least 10 or 15 minutes sitting on the sidelines on his mobile. Robredo managed to hit all of the balls outside of the practice court and most of them landed right in front of my feet. I picked them up and brought them back over to hand to his coach on the sideline, but he came over to the net to collect them and say thank you.
  • I would also like to mention that there are about 20 rows of VIP seats surrounding Centre Court, most of which are empty. I would particularly like to find out what I would have to do to get one of these seats. They also come with access to the VIP areas of the grounds, which compromise about half of the complex.
  • As a final observation, I would just like to mention the odd displays. There were big chickens playing tennis and all kinds of apparel shops (but oddly no real tournament merchandise) as well as tennis fashion shows. All this made sense, or at least had to do with tennis. However, there were also booths for airlines, jewelry, furniture, handbags, and meat. Yes, a meat stand. Not like a concession, just a stand that sold meat you could cook at home.
I hope you all take away something interesting. I know it’s a long post, but I just wanted to share some of my favorite moments and observations. While most of you probably won’t visit the ABN AMRO Tournament, there are plenty of ATP 250, 500, and 1000 level tournaments around the world which all offer a much more intimate experience than a Grand Slam. Hopefully I’ll be visiting several more during my stay here.

**If you’re interested in seeing more photos, follow this link…

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