Roland Garros...some thoughts.

Right, I've been back from Paris for a day now and have had a bit of time to think about what I want to say about the French Open. It was certainly amazing to watch live tennis - plop me in a stadium anywhere watching tennis and I'm happy. But outside the stadium I admit I found things a bit of struggle but I feel a bit bad just being negative when I feel absurdly lucky to have had the opportunity to attend. I just have a lot to compare it with - the US Open, Olympics and the Aussie Open, so here are some thoughts:

The good:
Clay is beautiful
Short food queues - I was quite amazed that the queues for food and drink were quite short. I don't think I ever waited more than a few minutes to buy something. That is quite amazing for any event - music, sports etc.

Mobile phone charger stations - brilliant idea, but I reckon they should be set on a 15 or 20 minute time limit else you get people standing there charging forever. They actually had three stations but I only knew of the main one by the big screen until the very end of my two days. Great idea tho and I took advantage (and nearly had my phone broken but a superbly important French teen who had his phone hooked up on the two-inch cord and still needed to have a conversation. He knocked my phone off the charger and a metre to the ground. I wanted to pull his hair)

Tidy bathrooms without long queues. My fave bathroom had an attendant with a tip jar and it was lovely. No portaloos or toilets in a trailer in Paris....and very short queues. It was fab.

The food - lovely baguettes, very good coffee and loved the donuts to start my day. The sushi was crazy expensive so never partook in that but overall I thought the food was decent. I got too lazy to bring much in this time other than fruit but as far as I'm aware you can bring in what you like

The clay - I have yet to see live grass tennis (give me another week and that will be a different story) but wow there is something special about seeing that beautiful orange clay in person. It's just stunning.

The less than good:

Nearly dark...time to go home!
Lack of water fountains. I challenge you to try and find the water fountains around the grounds of the French Open without using a map or asking for help. There are literally three taps on the grounds other than those in the toilets (and they are green so they kinda of blend into the bushes behind them). Not great during super hot days with tens of thousands of people who may not want to spend a few Euros on a bottle of water.

On the water bottle front, on the second day I was not allowed to bring in my metal water bottle which I had brought in on my first day. I did throw a small tantrum about this as it screamed absurdity to me. I don't know what the logic was but it's ridiculous that the tourney would be so environmentally unfriendly. I literally had to check in my bottle and pick it up at the end of the day. I'd have had more satisfaction throwing it at my bag check person.

Smoke - seriously, other than small children it seemed everyone at the French Open walked around the grounds smoking. It was awful and I thought I would leave with several ciggie burns from people swinging their arms holding a cigarette. People don't just smoke while walking on the grounds, they smoke inside the stadium. So wrong.

Lack of lights
- a real problem for the French Open is a lack of lights. It's not just a bummer for the fans, but also the players as well. I think either start earlier (no reason IMO to start at 2pm during QF) or add some lights at least to the main two stadiums. I'm not saying I didn't get my money's worth on Suzanne Lenglen  b/w the Fognini/Montanes and JJ/Fran matches and part of Ferrer/Monfils, but one reason I bought the SL ticket was to see Sveta/Dani and because of the length of other matches (and no chance of a late match) it got moved to another court.

Just try and read me you silly American

Lack of any English on the programmes.
I was really disappointed that the official programme and daily newspapers were all in French. Yes, I know we're in France, but this is still an international event and I was bummed to not have a programme I could read. I have a programme from every tourney I've ever attended and I cherish them. Yes, I could have spent 11 Euros on a programme I couldn't read but didn't see the point. Couldn't they do one with two languages, like airlines do?

Much more to say, but that's it for now - anything you're curious about just shoot!

Back from Roland Garros

After spending the past two days at Roland Garros I have so much to say and so much to share. I even took notes, and about a zillion pics. Everything is so pretty in Paris, and I don't just mean Rafa.

So I'll come back soon with some insight to attending this slam - I will say overall that it was no Melbourne, but I expected that and realise that all slams have different personalities (being a tad diplomatic right now). But the clay is stunning, I loved Suzanne Lenglen court and the baguettes and coffee onsite were délicieux.

Au revoir, for now.

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to Roland Garros I go!

Wow what an amazingly crazy first few days of Roland Garros 2011 - I think my stress levels have been tested far too early in this slam (I'm looking at you Rafa, Li Na and Maria Sharapova).

It will not get any easier - Delpo (my  #2 ATP love) takes on Nole tomorrow and I am so uncertain about Rafa's mental state right now.

I'm desperately trying to get a ticket to Phillipe Chatrier stadium for Saturday so I can see Rafa on clay - a dream of mine. So as I am meant to be packing for my Eurostar train to Paris in the morning I'm constantly hitting refresh on the Roland Garros ticket trading site just hoping (I actually just missed out on two tickets - can not hesitate for a second, literally!) to get a ticket.

I will be at the tennis on Saturday and Sunday, and like any tennis addict I will find it hard to leave while the tourney is still going on but alas, I have four weeks left in the UK so I will not be too greedy since Queens Club, Eastbourne and Wimbledon await.

I admit most info I've heard from people who've attended the French Open has not been positive so I'm really keen to see how it compares to the Aussie Open and US Open.

I just missed another ticket for the main court - had gone all the way to the end of processing only to be told they were no longer available. I think it's going to be a long night.

Surviving the Nole streak

I love Novak Djokovic, but I gotta say the past few weeks have been difficult since I pledge my tennis allegiance to Rafa. This morning, yet again during the wee hours of a Monday, I tried in vain to get up at 5am to watch another Rafole final. After phone calls (sorry mom) and my own fear of the result kept me in my warm bed, I peeked at my phone to check the score and it told me Nole won again. Sigh. Fears confirmed.

We Rafa fans have been spoiled rotten from April to June for many, many years. We know this is his prime and his losses on clay are in single digits in his entire career (eight losses now) . He's largely unbeatable on the clay and I for one enjoy seeing him reign on this surface. But that kind of sustained dominance year after year is just unrealistic.

Doesn't mean the recent losses don't smart.

I think I am more upset Rafa got straight setted in two straight clay finals. But, as hard as it is to see Rafa lose, I'd much rather it be to someone who is on fire rather than 'random' losses to other players (or Fed). Nole is, well, unbeatable.

So I've chosen to get through these losses by focusing on the positives - Rafa's health is relatively strong (viruses aside) and he's injury free. I'm sure his confidence has taken a bit of a hit but I don't doubt his motivation and intensity are any less than they were a few months ago. I hope his finals losses just make him even hungrier to defend his title in Paris.

Also, as I much as I hate seeing my fave lose, Novak is unfrigginbelievable right now. The ball striking and rallies we're seeing are consistently jaw dropping. Enjoy it!

Farewell for now Dinara

Aussie Open 2011 practice
Dinara Safina announced this week that she's taking an indefinite break from the game in order to rest her back and try and get healthy. I think I speak for most of her fans when I say THANK GOD. The poor girl has not been playing at even close to 100% for nearly two years and she has been trying to play through pain for too long.

I first saw Dinara play live at the Beijing Olympics when she faced Li Na in the semifinals. This match was one of the worst atmospheres I've ever witnessed in sport. I'd been to quite a few sessions of the tennis at the Olympics by the time the semis rolled around and, to put it nicely, Chinese people had/have no idea how to watch tennis. They had no understanding that you don't call out during points, or laugh when a player catches a service toss, or clap for double faults. After surviving Li Na's upset of Venus in the QF I had had my fill of the crowds.

ut Dinara vs Li Na was about to get worse! It was a battle from the beginning and the crowds were booing Dinara when she was trying to pump herself up. They booed her when she yelled 'come one' and at one stage the crowd's treatment was so bad Dinara's coach stood up and screamed at the chair umpire to do something. It was just awful, and when Dinara won the first set in a tiebreaker I got the hell out of that stadium. I had never felt so awful for a player and had such anger toward a crowd. Even Li Na got peeved during this match - she stopped and glared in the direction of someone who'd yelled out during play.

So I missed Dinara winning in two tight sets to advance to the gold medal match. Sadly, I was supposed to have been at the gold medal match but thanks to rain the gold medal match became said crazy tense semifinals. It would have been fantastic to have been in the gold medal match with two Russians so the crowds probably wouldn't have been so involved. 

Dinara's perseverance in that hostile, maddening environment proved how mentally tough she is.
Beijing Olympics semifinal vs Li Na
I certainly never thought Dinara would reach world #1 and become a huge threat at slams. Berate her for losing badly in three slam finals, but she was a fantastic clay court and hard court player and I hope her back heals so that she can compete well again. She's a massive fighter and gives her all - really hope she takes the time off she needs and that we're lucky enough to see her back on the courts someday.

Tennis lover's dream holiday

French Open
Queen's Club

Attending even one of these great tournaments was always a dream of mine, and I'm about to go to all four. I still can't get my head around it to be honest, but it is happening! In a week's time I'll head to the UK and thanks to the huge generosity of @appleaddicto I will be attending two days of the French Open. Seriously folks, tennis fans on Twitter are the bomb! I have a grounds pass for the first weekend and I can't wait to drink in the atmosphere of the French Open. 

I walked around the grounds back in 1998, the only other time I've been to Paris. At the time I'd only ever been to the Wimbledon Museum and grounds so I was stunned at how open things were at Stade Roland Garros. I was able to walk onto the outside courts (my first time standing on a clay tennis court) and could even walk into the stands of centre court. It was all surreal back then even though it was a few months before the actual tournament. To know I have a ticket to see matches there - wow.

As I live in New Zealand,  it's quite a journey to get to the UK/Europe so I'm making this trip very much worthwhile. I am lucky to have not only a brother in England but also heaps of friends around London and Paris so I can spend my money on tennis tickets and travel and not accommodation! So I'll also be going to Queens Club for a day and will go to at least one day of the Eastbourne WTA event. The only other smaller tournaments I've been to have been Fed Cup in the US and our lovely little Auckland tourneys so it will be great to see live grass court tennis on a smaller stage. The lineups at Queens Club Men's Singles and Eastbourne Women's Singles are superb. 

And Wimbledon....I've actually been to the museum and grounds 3 or 4 times. My tennis addiction has led me to tennis' Holy Grail nearly each time I've been in London in the past 15 years. But it's always been in spring and never during the actual tournament so this is going to be amazing. Apparently there are tours leading up to the tournament so a friend and I will be going to one of those and then will queue up for tickets for the first few days. Hoping to end up on Centre Court but will just have to wait and see.

I hope to blog and tweet (@stephinnz) regularly so watch this space!

WTA advertising gone bad

Check out this advertisement I found while flipping through the Wimbledon 2008 programme:

There is so much to say about this advertisement. First, how in the heck did Whirlpool/WTA get these top players to don towels and pose like this for an ad? And how did the stodgy powers that be at Wimbledon decide this advert was perfect for the OFFICIAL PROGRAMME? Yes, the ladies are wearing white, but cmon. No one needs to see Justine Henin sitting like that.

If you can't make out all six ladies, they are, from left to right: Serena, Justine, Elena D, Anna C, Amelie and JJ.

Agassi and Pete - not so much BFFs

Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras battled it out so much during their long careers and who would have thought they'd end up sparring so publicly after their retirements.

The whole mess makes me a bit sad, even though I was always Team Andre and struggled to ever warm up to Pete. Even after recently reading his autobiography, I still didn't find much to like about Pete. Yes, his game was amazing and efficient and tennis purists have told me I can't be a tennis fan without liking Pete (to which I say, whatever) but I just didn't enjoy him on or off the court.

I always, however, appreciated the rivalry and knew it was fantastic for tennis. But just as we've seen with Rafa and Fed, rivalries can really polarise fans and for me I never wanted Andre to win more than I did when he played Pete. 

Even though I'm a huge Andre fan I still can criticise him and admit when he acts like a dick. Yes, he shouldn't have said what he did at last year's Hit for Haiti. He's taken a lot of grief for what he said and I agree he should have kept it professional and remembered what they were playing for. Andre has apologised publicly for what he said and personally rang Pete to apologise.

However, in the latest installment of Andre and Pete's post-retirement snippyness I have to say I think Pete is the one who's going to have to grow up. After their most recent exhibition at Madison Square Garden, Andre called Pete to say he thought Pete should have taken it easier on Andre to give the fans more entertainment. I think this was totally necessary (perhaps coming more from an event organiser or agent tho?) as it was clear that Andre's body is not able to keep up with Pete. Let's remember why they retired - Pete did not retire because his body gave out. Andre possibly would have played much longer had his back issues not prevented him from doing so. Pete's fitness was never in doubt and for his age he looks fantastic; Andre on the other hand looks like an old hurting man. It's clear his back issues have not gone away and he could not play this exhibition with the same intensity as Pete.

Apparently after Andre told Pete he needed to make the exhibition more competitive the two got into a heated phone discussion and that lead to Pete refusing to play Andre in an upcoming exhibition they had schedule in Buenos Aires. Pete even went so far as to ask not to meet Andre at any point during their recent time there. Who wins in this strained relationship? No one - fans bought tickets to this exo, and instead did not get to see Pete and Andre play each other. Who knows if they will move past the latest disagreement and face off anytime in the future.

It's all a huge shame, as the fans are the ones who lose out but I think it's sad that these post-career spats may create more of a lasting impression than their amazing rivalry.

Up close and personal with the ATP and WTA

Sharapova vs Arn
I had the opportunity to volunteer at the ASB Classic and Heineken Open tennis tournaments earlier this year in Auckland. Being a complete tennis nut, I don't know why I haven't made a career out of volunteering or working at tournaments around the world. What a way to spend a week! Free entrance to the tournament, food allowance and free parking. And oh so much tennis. Ideal.

During the ASB Classic, I was mere inches away from players like Sharapova, Wickmayer, Goerges and Peng Shaui. I didn't know if I should say anything to the players but I had a sudden encounter with Masha when I nearly knocked her down the stairs (and she lost soon after our near collision). Maria didn't get peeved at me though and just smiled as she continued up the stairs to the player lounge. Oops!

Sabine Lisicki playing Wickmayer
I got the chance to stand next to Julia Goerges while she waited to take the court for her semifinal against Greta Arn (still can't believe she lost that match). I got a girl crush as I stood by Julia - she has the most beautiful skin tone and is just gorgeous with a great smile.

I walked by Wickmayer so many times as she prepped for her matches - she looked so intense all the time that I didn't feel comfortable saying good luck or anything to her but we did lock eyes quite a few times. I actually met Yanina last year when she won in Auckland and she was pretty friendly but that was coming off her win and it was at the player's party so she would have had her guard down a bit more.

During the Heineken Open, I started to get more comfortable seeing the players and the head volunteer took a liking to me so she started giving me really good posts. I ended up working by the player lounge entrance right by the stairs the players use to go off and on the court. By this stage I'd felt a lot more daring to go up to the players so I became autograph collector:

Nalby on his way to the locker room pre Isner
The nicest player was John Isner and the least friendly was - SURPRISE - Nicolas Almagro. John was very sweet and asked me how I was doing and I told him I'd be going to Melbourne too and would be cheering for him. What a sweet man but goodness were my hands shaking after I got his autograph!

David Nalbandian was also super sweet - he walked by me and said hi, and I hit him up after he won his semifinal for an autograph. He was really patient as I tried to find my pen - he was chomping on a muesli bar as I dug into my purse and then got his autograph. Such a lovely guy.

Ferrer warming up for the final
I was on a roll so other players I approached were Thomaz Bellucci (those eyes!), Arnaud Clement, Tommy Robredo and Nicolas Almagro. Nico looked a bit put out by my request but signed my shirt anyway. I said thanks and good luck and got a bit of a gangster nod and that was that. I also fangirled a bit over Larri Passos (I was a massive Guga fan) and so wanted to go up to Mariana Alves and ask her about Hawkeye but thought better of that....

The player I never had the balls to approach was David Ferrer - not that he looked unapproachable but you had to be so quick and I wasn't about to chase the players to get an autograph.Well, I would have chased Pico around the grounds but unfortunately he lost too early so I didn't get a chance. I also wimped out with hot Fognini and super cute Marc Lopez - again the small windows of opportunity meant I had to act fast and sometimes I hated to pounce on them.

If you ever have the opportunity to work as a volunteer at any level of ATP/WTA tournament I urge you to go for it!