Saturday, November 3, 2007

Paris Masters: To Mt. Olympus and Back

Saturday greetings all! My parents and I are enjoying Seattle this weekend together, so I don't think I'll have much going on, unless Troy continues to shower me with incredible posts.

Today Mr. Venechanos has a special behind-the-scenes treat for us, with video to boot! Check out his posts over on Steve Tignor's Concrete Elbow blog on ("Wild Fires" and "Halloween in Paris".)

I am typing write now in the press tribune at the Palais Omnisports overlooking Center Court. There are no players on court yet. Instead, there are about eight Asian power drummers doing a really loud tribal song. Yesterday there was a group of Cirque de Soleil-esque dancers rolling around in hula hoops to Enya. But stranger things have happened on this court in the last couple of days.

This is the court where Nicolay Davydenko forgot how to serve. It's the court where Richard Gasquet took yet another unlikely win. And it's the court where I sat two rows behind Mirka.

I know, you're in shock. I am too. I probably will be for a while. But let me take you back to the beginning, to a time before I tasted the ambrosia of the tennis gods.

As you already know and will be reminded of for the last time, my friend Will is close with Eric 'Booty' Butorac. Booty lost in the second a couple of days ago in straight sets to the Czech duo of Dlouhy and Vizner. After his loss, we met up with Booty. He is an incredibly nice guy, your typical, down to Earth doubles player. Although, this might just be because he's from the Midwest. I think it's a genetic
impossibility to be from the Midwest and not be nice. Unless you're Ed Gein. Although as far as serial killers go, I think he was pretty nice - human skin lampshades aside.

Where was I? Ah yes, Booty. After his loss, he went back to the hotel to shower and eat. In the mean time, he gave Will a ticket to get into the Player's Lounge. This ticket would become my golden chariot. Will got into the player's lounge and I got my own pass and met him in there. It wasn't my first time in the lounge. My first time was uneventful; I saw a few notable players and had an awkward bro-like conversation with Mardy Fish on how Ana Ivanovic is a pretty girl. And yes, he used the term 'pretty girl' rather than 'hot chick.'

This second time was a completely different experience. Over the course of an hour, I saw every player in the ATP Top 20, excluding Federer. Nadal was canoodling with his girlfriend (also a 'pretty girl'). Nalbandian was playing games with a toddler (unsure of the relation). Brad Gilbert was talking with Anne Murray while waiting for Andy. Brad was talking about a Chinese Embassy - conversation which is now null
and void.

The French players were out in force as well. Grosjean, Llodra, Clement and Tsonga were all sitting in the same area watching a weird, dubbed movie with Pierce Brosnan. What is it with French players and Pierce Brosnan? Gasquet made a few appearances, he was constantly talkingwith his coach in preparation for his Round of 16 match with James Blake. Although at one point, Gasquet and Baghdatis were chatting. It turns out Marcos speaks great French, a fact I had forgotten.

The precious few Americans left in the tournament also hung out in a group. Once Booty returned, he lunched with the Bryans and even greeted Brad Gilbert. In case you ever run into him, call him 'BG' - it's what his bros call him. Yes, I thought I had made it. This player-saturated lounge was the real deal, the summit of every tennis fan's Mt. Olympus. It turns out it was just base camp.

Will had to leave early to catch an evening flight to Dublin. We said our goodbyes and he gave me the ticket that Booty had given him. It was the same kind of ticket that any member of a player's entourage would get. The same ticket as, dare I say, Mirka would get. I decided to wait until the evening session to use my ticket and in the meantime I enjoyed the Gasquet/Blake match as well as an all-French doubles match. I decided to get to that night's marquis match (Nalbandian vs. Federer)
slightly early because I knew seats would be in high demand - in the player's box that is.

I picked a great seat in the third row up. Great view, aisle seat, relatively little obstruction from the protective net - it was a good choice. Soon the entourages started to pour in. Nalbandian's coach and family filed into the front row. French tennis icons like Guy Forget took their seats as well. Still no sign of the courtside icon, Ms. Vavrinec.

Then I heard the clomping of expensive boots behind me. There she was, Mirka, in all her glory. She was extremely tall (not just because of her boots). Her hair was perfectly done and she clutched her ever-present purse in front of her as she chatted with another ever-present girlfriend. I was blinded for a second by her "I love you very much ring." At a few points, we made eye contact. Soon the match
started and her boyfriend started to battle it out with his new Argentine rival.

I had a great view of the match and it was a very entertaining one at that. I forgot what the following match up on Center Court would be and I asked the person in front of me what the next match would be. "Haas vs. Youzhny," he answered, "you might want to look next to you." Sure enough, sitting right next to me was the German wonder himself, Tommy Haas.

I decided to get concrete evidence of this event - a way of electronically pinching myself to make sure this wasn't a dream. As you can see in this video, Nalbandian's coach is to the left. I zoomed in on Mirka, although her radiance cannot be captured on film. If you look closely, I zoom across as Tommy is sitting next to me. I thought it would be socially uncomfortable to zoom in on him as he sat next to me.

As the match drew to an end, Tommy left to get suited up for his match. In his vacant seat sat Cedric Pioline's wife who brought along their adorable son. There wasn't very much room, so the kid and share seat space between his mother and I. I knew I was on Mt. Olympus when I had a Pioline on my lap.

We all know how the match ended; Zeus was dethroned. As I made my way slowly down the hallowed peaks of the tennis world, I hope I will come back soon. If not, Mirka and I will always have Paris...

-Troy Venechanos

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