I Was in the Room With Rafa!

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In case you haven’t picked up on this just yet, I am a HUGE fan of Rafael Nadal.  I have been following his career since my son first started playing tennis seriously about 8 years ago, and he is one of those special athletes whose appeal, for me, extends far beyond the confines of a tennis court.

I have had the chance to see him play live several times and never cease to be amazed by the energy he brings to every match. The way he fights on the tennis court has been compared to a gladiator. Rafa himself uses the word “suffer” quite often to describe the experience of competing.

Yesterday, I saw Rafa’s name on the night schedule for Arthur Ashe Stadium and knew I was going to be in for a long day and night of tennis. With my media credential, I am allowed to be in the press room during the player interviews, and I am allowed to ask questions. There was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to see and hear this young man up close!

I missed the beginning of his match versus the Brazilian, Rogerio Dutra Silva. I suspected it would be a pretty quick match on Rafa’s part, so I stayed in Louis Armstrong Stadium to watch John Isner take on Gael Monfils. Once John was up 2 sets, I decided to head over to Ashe to catch the last set of the Rafa match. On my way over there, I ran into a friend of mine from the Atlanta US Open Series tournament who does stats for IDS. She invited me to come watch with her in the ESPN booth – what a treat that was! We had a birds-eye view of the court from right behind the players – it was incredible!

Once Rafa won, I headed back to the Media Center to gather myself before going into the press conference. When I walked into the room, there were only a couple other media people present, so I parked myself in the center of the front row, right in front of where Rafa would be sitting. He came into the room a few minutes later, all smiles and full of that positive energy he exudes.

The moderator asked for questions in English first, to be followed by questions in Spanish. The first question had to do with his performance during this last match. In typical fashion, Rafa answered very modestly that he started a little bit too slow but played better as the match progressed.

Then it was my turn to ask a question. I asked, “If you could give advice to parents whose children want to be like you (professional tennis players), what would you tell them?” Here is his thoughtful response:

“To be like me or not, that’s something if I did, probably a lot of people can do it because I feel like I am a really normal person. But I think is important to have good people around you. Parents have to be a little bit away and support the kid. But at the end is negative when the parents want to be too much involved on the things. For any reason there is a coach there that knows much more about tennis than the parents. At the end the most important thing is the guy and the kid needs to have a good physical and mental conditions to be ready for the competition and then find a kid that is ready to work.”

Great input from a great champion!

The link below is a recording of part of the press conference – some in English, some in Spanish. I thought y’all might enjoy hearing it. (Just click on the link below to download the audio file then click to open with your computer’s audio player)

Rafa Nadal

My First Major As Media

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In case you missed my announcement several weeks ago, I was approved as Media for the upcoming US Open. This is a HUGE DEAL! I am beyond excited! And just a little nervous. I’ve never had media credentials at a big event like this (truth be told, I’ve only ever had credentials once, and that was at the end of last year at the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff in Atlanta). I have no idea what to expect. I’m just hoping I get at least one opportunity to be in the press room when Rafa is there!

Seriously, though, ever since I got word that my application was accepted, I’ve been asking questions and doing research and trying to come up with ideas that will make my experience at the Open worthy of sharing with you via this blog and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and the radio show. I think I’ve come up with some good stories to tell. The challenge will be getting in front of the folks who can help me tell the stories by sharing their own stories with me. The parents, the players, their coaches – both at the junior level and professional – those who have been-there-done-that and are willing to talk about it. Melanie Rubin will be helping me, too – she did such an amazing job with her interviews at Kalamazoo – and I’m looking forward to sharing much more of her insights as her son competes at the Open (in case you missed the news, Noah received a Wild Card into the US Open qualifying tournament which starts Tuesday!).

Lucky for me, I’ve come in contact with so many experienced people since I started ParentingAces a little over a year and a half ago, people who are generous and gracious with their knowledge.  They are helping me formulate a plan for my week at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. They are sharing their contacts with me and making introductions. They are offering to show me the ropes and hold my hand as I learn. I owe each of them an enormous debt of gratitude.

I will be in New York from August 27th through September 3rd. I will be at the Open every one of those days, soaking up as much tennis and media savvy as possible. Be sure you’re following ParentingAces on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so you don’t miss anything! If you’re there during that same week, please let me know where we can meet and chat. You have stories to share, too, and I want to include each and every one of them in my first foray as US Open Media!

Community

The tennis community is truly something special.  If you haven’t experienced it yet, just wait . . . you will.  Whether it’s a coach inviting your child to join his academy’s warmup at a tournament or a parent offering a protein bar to your child when he forgot to pack one or a child comforting your child after a tough loss, the community is there and it’s there en force.

And, when a challenge or a tragedy strikes our tennis community, we rally.  We speak out.  We show up.  We stand together in support.

Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the support coming out for one of our top junior players, Sean Karl.  I wrote about Sean‘s recent diagnosis of Ewings Sarcoma a couple of weeks ago.  Since then, the Facebook group created by a group of his tennis friends has grown to over 1500 members posting daily words of support.  A couple of tennis parents joined forces to create a logo, merchandise, and website to raise money to help offset Sean’s medical expenses. Roger Federer posted a video on YouTube encouraging Sean to keep fighting.  Babolat sent Sean a racquet autographed by Rafael Nadal.  The tennis teams at several universities have written Sean’s initials on the backs of their shoes, showing their support for his battle.

And, this is only one example of our amazing community.  If you think it ends when your child is done with junior tennis, you’d be wrong!  A new-found adult tennis friend of mine lost his father suddenly to leukemia last week.  His local – and global – tennis community showed its support by sending emails, cards, phone calls, Facebook posts, and, most importantly, by coming to his father’s funeral.  One attendee called the funeral a “virtual who’s who” of local tennis coming out to pay their last respects.  They were all people that my friend had met through his years of playing and coaching tennis.  He is now an adult.  His tennis community is still there for him and will be probably forever.

Now I’m seeing my son create his own tennis community.  Thanks to the Maccabi Games, ITF, USTA, and summer tennis camps, his community extends around the world.  And thanks to Facebook and Twitter and FaceTime, my son and his community can stay in touch anytime, anywhere.  And, they do!  These kids are learning incredibly valuable lessons about friendship and healthy competition and what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself.

The amazing thing to me about this community is that you may lose track of it for a while – even a long while, as I did – but it will still be there when you want or need it.  After 30+ years away from my tennis community, I reconnected thanks to my son.  I have re-established friendships with my former tennis buddies whose kids are also now playing and traveling to tournaments.  We ask each other for help with warm-up courts, or local restaurants, or a place to stay.  We check in with each other to see how the latest tournament went.  We keep up with each other’s non-tennis lives, too, also thanks to Facebook and Twitter, and support each other when needed.

If you think tennis is just about what happens between the lines, think again.  The relationships your child – and YOU – is forging now will be there for years to come.  The tennis community is truly something special.