Well I may have officially became a tennis groupie over the last couple days, and in this marathon post I'll describe our road trip we had into our journey of becoming groupies. Eric Butorac, a friend several of you know or have heard about, was playing in his second ATP event this week, the RCA Championships in Indianapolis, IN. I knew he was most likely going to make the main draw a couple weeks ago and he casually asked...'want to come'? I told him I'd think about it and get back to him. Turns out that I was able to pull off the trip and decided to drive instead of fly to save some cash (along with the fact that we wouldn't know 100% if he made the draw and when he'd play until the three days before the tournament). So once we found out he was in and playing Tuesday, Josh Feldman, a friend from college, and I planned our rode trip...
Josh likes to pretend he's a professional softball player, so of course he want to stay up in St. Paul Monday night to play in his two softball games before heading down to meet me in Rochester. So that basically put him in Rochester about 9pm and we'd take off for Indy and roll in about 6am or so - this is bringing flash backs of when Jim Daly and I tripped out to Notre Dame for a game against Michigan (#1 in nation at the time). Except our destination was ND stadium instead of a hotel, so instead of leaving at 9pm, we purposely waited until 1am so we'd roll in about 9-9:30am and could go directly to the stadium for 'refreshments'. Needless to say, Jim fell asleep before we got out of my driveway so I battled my way down to South Bend (similiar 8 hour trip). Not quite sure why Jim was so tired as he got about 6 solid hours of sleep on the way down, but once we got there and started watching the Irish upset Michigan nothing could have been going better. Until halftime...at least I have an excuse since I was the driver all night long, but one minute I'm on an adrenaline rush as the Irish sprinted off the field leading Michigan, next thing I know, Daly and I are both sleeping like a couple of newborns...basically leaning up against one another - in the student section no less. I can only image how *old* we looked to the 'actual' students. Some loud noise went off and we both startled awake...realized we were both sleeping and vowed not to tell anyone about it, lol. Sorry Daly, cat's out of the bag now...like I said I have an excuse!
Anyway, I digress. Josh was a much better passenger as he stayed awake the whole time and was a good navigator. We made pretty good time down there, arriving in 7.5 hours but since we got the late start (didn't leave until 10) and lost an hour on the way down there, we basically rolled into Eric's hotel at about 7:10am...few minutes before the alarm was set to go off. Breakfast was to be at 8ish so Josh plunged into the Heavenly Bed (that is the Westin's term not mine)...and before I could even bat an eye that kid was lights out. Since it was only a 'full bed' I decided I'd just sit/crash on the chair for a couple minutes before going down to breakfast with Eric. I planned to take everything in since I made the road trip down there :) Little side note about the Westin...I don't know if it was lack of sleep, or lack of food at the time, but both Josh and I were freezing while there...especially the first day. They like to keep it cold - although it was 90+ degrees outside the couple days we were down there. So I'm sitting there on the chair, literally shivering waiting for Eric to get up, shower and head out. I didn't want to get into bed yet because if I fell asleep, I'd probably not want to get up for breakfast and Eric's practice session and more importantly, I wasn't really in the cuddling mood quite yet...although time changes everything ;) After freezing for about thirty minutes, I finally decided to crawl into 'Heaven' with Josh albeit only for 10-15 minutes...neither my second or third wind had kicked in yet so I was making sleep deprived decisions. I'm usually good for 60-70 hours straight if needed, but do have moments of 'weakness' in there and the 'white light of heaven' was oh so bright. I was having flash backs of the pillow scene in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as I slid under the covers to stop shivering, but hey, two grown Minnesota men cuddling up to stay warm in Indy isn't anything to be ashamed about is it?!
Let me tell you...I shouldn't have made heaven wait so long!!! OMG, that was the best 5 minute sleep I've ever had! But I put the kibosh on the nap and we got up with Eric to head down to breakfast - daydreaming about when I'd get to come back and go to bed in heaven. As we sat in the room set up for players, it was pretty fun seeing all the guys you watch on TV come walking in and eating breakfast elbow to elbow with you. At this first breakfast, I saw Paradorn Srichaphan, Tommy Haas, Dominic Hrbaty (personal favorite at this point) and Fernando Gonzalez. Quick synopsis on what I thought of the players (all of them not just these four)...I was a bit surprised at how 'skinny' they all looked and how much bigger the TV made them. Obviously all were extremely fit, but from my quick glances (didn't want to appear like psycho fan or anything) none of them were built as big as I envisioned them. The only guy that looked basically the same on TV and in person was Mark Philippoussis. Even Marat Safin who looks extremely large/built on TV, is skinny (as his height/weight from profile show). He has broad shoulders but other than that very thin. Enough on that, I'll continue on with the rest of the tourney highlights.
So we went from the Westin to the tennis courts with Eric to watch his practice session...via the Mercedes Players' Escorts. Much nicer than the rental we had grown to love/hate over the previous 8 hours, but hell as expensive as the parking was at the Westin, we could have probably bought one of the escort cars for ourselves. Once we arrived at the tourney site, here is where the fun began ;) And the confident All Access Strut was about to emerge! Turns out Josh and I were going to be the coaches of Chris Drake, friend and frequent doubles partner of Eric's (everyone can stop laughing now...really, no need to be laughing at Josh, he's not that bad at tennis). So we went to the credentials booth with Eric, bed head galore on Josh and I, hell Josh was still in his sweaty softball get up and needless to say, due to the fact that Chris wasn't there and Eric was just 'weaselling' the tickets on his behalf (with Chris' approval) and more dubious was the fact that Josh and I looked like a couple of homeless people that bribed Eric for the passes, the credential office was leary to say the least when creating our All Access credentials. Eric smooth talked his/our way through it though and a couple minutes later, the strut was born.
First stop...Players' Lounge! No one was there yet as all the 'big names' don't get scheduled to practice this early in the day. Players Lounge was just a couple of tennis courts (I think) covered with carpet...TVs everywhere, pool table, XBOX, ping pong, etc. Josh spotted the ping pong table and wanted to play...I was a bit leary picking up a paddle and playing a 'racket sport' around a bunch of pro tennis players, but Josh being from South St. Paul had a hard time understanding the logic...'they are pro TENNIS players not pro ping pong players'...I sheepishly agreed to play even though I didn't want to. I think it embarrassed Eric a bit too, lol. Not because of our pathetic hand eye coordination during our sleep deprived state...but more because we were wearing our All Access passes around our neck and they were bouncing all over the place getting into the way and making us look like 'dorks'. Eric slyly/sarcastically tells Josh...'I don't think security is going to be checking credentials in here'...took a while for Josh to figure out what that meant but then realized how goofy we looked and quickly slid them off. Common theme here is going to be making fun of Josh and his 'performance' after one all nighter. Come on...I mean the kid grew up in South St. Paul, I'm sure he was doing keg stands and all nighters by the age of 6 or 7 and now just because he's 30 he can't function without 10 hours of sleep...pathetic! After sitting in lounge for a bit and playing in ping pong (be sure to see the 'comment' Josh adds to the story...I'm sure he'll comment as he loves to relish in his seldom victories over me - ha squelched that), we headed out to the court to watch Eric practice.
Watching a pro player practice is pretty amazing site. They 'relax' enough to make sure their hitting partner can hit the ball, but they are still cracking it much harder than I've ever been able to...and how clean they hit it is just ridiculous. Watching Eric stick volley after volley just reaffirmed my recent 'retirement' from tennis...Senior Golf Tour here I come! Anyway, we watched Eric's whole practice sneaking peaks at Hrbaty, Srichaphan, and a few other doubles specialist hit (that most readers of this will not recognize) and Josh and I were just amazed again at how cleanly every ball was hit. Truely fun, humbling, and inspiring (ok, I may pull a Roger Clemens and come out of retirement at some point). After the practice session, Eric went to shower, stretch and massage (perks of ATP tour...along with 'hair styles'...I told Josh to take his hat off and see what they'd do with his bed hed) while Josh and I waited around. Back at hotel, Josh and I finally showered up and got ready to head back to courts for the 12:30 start for early matches. Eric was going to lay low in the hotel to stay out of the heat.
Josh and I got back, and after the shower, feeling refreshed, the All Access Aura was in full force as we marched around the courts daring anyone to question our authority to be in certain locations on the site. The first match we watch was Fernando Gonzalez vs Sam Querrey. Fernando is known for having the biggest forehand on tour. Surprisingly, in person his forehand didn't look as big as it did on TV. Normally, the speed at athletic events increases (and for a ton of the tennis we watched it did as well) but for some reason his forehand was even more intimidating on TV - maybe he was taking a little pace off on purpose but I expected more. Anyway, Josh and I walked away less than inspired after this match. Pretty sloppy tennis and over pretty quick and like I said, no fireworks from Gonzalez. We watched this match from the side view, and next on court was Philippoussis vs. Hyung-Tiak Lee...I told Josh we should sit directly behind the players to see if that changed the 'pace' perspective...also noting that we might catch a ball or something as Philippoussis bombed serves in - they don't call him SCUD (Missle) for nothing! (although I do have to say I wasn't that awed by the serve...only because all the other pros hit 'basically' as hard...he hit a 141mph, dozen 130s, and rest in the 120s...if I would have seen him and no one else before in my life I'm sure I would be saying something else)
So we walked around to other side of stadium, stuck out our chest with the all access pass as we walked passed security down to the front row...do you get the feeling we loved our new passes?! So as we were walking down to the front row (you know the one where you see the guys directly over the server's shoulders during TV broadcasts)...there was a woman in the second row and I asked if she knew if anyone was sitting in the three chairs in front of her. She responded no, so Josh and I promptly plopped our butts down with a 'We must be in the front row!!' smirk on our face. Didn't really notice it as I asked the woman, but as the match would wear on, her attire became an 'issue'. The way the woman was cheering/talking to Philippoussis (he didn't respond), it became apparant that she was his girlfriend or wife. So after spotting a ring on Philippoussis' hand, I was determined to find out if this was his wife or what. Before that mission began, let me inform you about her attire. Anyone who has flown or gone to sporting events know, they aren't exactly generous in leg room in the seats the vast majority of the time and the RCAs were no exception. That being said, any time I wanted to talk to Josh, when I'd turn to talk to him (he sat a seat away) all I saw were legs and thighs about an inch from my nose. Now, some might say she was wearing a skirt...to me it looked more like a 'hair scrunchy' or piece of tissue paper no longer than 3" wide (and no I didn't have guts to confirm this measurement) wrapped around her waist. It was a bit unconfortable/embarrasing because it's kind of like when you get caught starring or looking at something you are not supposed to...anytime I looked over at Josh I felt like she thought I was some pervert or something - trying to talk to Josh but not look his direction...God knows if I looked more stupid trying to be 'polite' or what. Anyway, due to the fact that I felt wierd turning 'sideways', turning all the way around to try and spot a ring on her finger which was probably sitting on her lap on top of the 'scruchie'...er skirt, was going to prove to be a challenge. Don't remember how or when, but I did catch a glimpse of her HAND and she did indeed have a ring on, so I was 99.9% sure this was his wife (later on confirmation would arrive).
Turns out I 'saved her life' in the end lol. Just as I had hoped, I was about to make my entrance into ATP imortality as well. OK, I don't think any cameras caught this in slow motion or anything, but hey, I'll be telling my grandkids about the 20-30 different angles they were showing on the jumbo-tron! Anyway, Lee popped up a short overhead while Philippoussis was at the net. "Mission Control...prepare for launch..." Here comes SCUD #1...he pounds overhead and it is coming right at Josh and I...basically gonna split us and hit you know what...er who...his wife. The ball was probably going 120mph (don't worry...in the revised version, it'll be 150-160) and it was 'just' going to clear the railing...so probably hit about as hard as it could have been going into the crowd. Both Josh and I had cell phones in hand - no we weren't making calls and waving to cameras...only because they didn't have cameras though ;) - and both anticipated the shot. So we were both switching cell phone hands to get our inside hand available. Me with my cat like reflexes beat Feldman to the draw! Too bad I don't have his hands...the overhead hit my hand HARD and popped right back out. My immortality was quickly disintegrated :( Now, if I wasn't there, Josh and I are convinced a 911 call would have been needed...let's just say Philippoussis' wife didn't exactly look that athletic. Probably would have been better drama to let the ball go, but hey I wanted Philippoussis to win so I was just making sure he wasn't rattled for 'murdering his wife'. Unfortunately my heroics were in vain, and Philippoussis lost the match. Ultimate awkward and terrifying moment...as we stood up to get out of the stands we turned around, and of course Philippoussis's wife was 'storming' away. As she walked up the ladder...er steps Josh and I were a couple steps behind and started our way up...Ann and Julie...skip to next paragraph ;) As we looked up...er forward...all I saw underneath the tissue paper MINI skirt were cheeks. Took a moment (yes just a moment) for the embarrassed/awkward feeling to sink in, but it took even a shorter moment for both Josh and I to realize what her husband was able to do with a racket to tennis balls, let alone our heads. We both immediately stopped, turned around, making sure Philippoussis wasn't preparing for missle launch #2 and waited a few moments make sure his wife was OUT OF THE STADIUM! Phew...three murders foiled in one day...job well done :)
So Josh and I went back to players lounge to hang out with Eric...he was waiting for one more match to go on before he was scheduled to play. As we walk in, guess who is there?! Philippoussis's wife...great, now we are the creepy stalkers. So we were sitting there chatting with Eric, watching the matches on TV. By now, Philippoussis has showered and was sitting with his wife while talking on the cell phone...Eric meanwhile grabs the remote and starts flipping our TV to the different court cameras to see scores. Well, all the TVs in the players lounge were on same IR remote frequency I guess because all of a sudden Philippoussis stands up irritated...all 6'5" of him after a loss and looks over at us. Josh and I cowered into the sofa awaiting our certain death for 'stalking' his wife and now changing his TV without his permission (he did have his rackets with him you know)...but Eric quickly put out the fire. All kidding aside, Philippoussis appeared to be a very nice guy, as did vast majority of the players - everyone we met through Eric included.
After the wait, Eric was finally preparing to play. I will not commentate on the match (I'll leave that for Eric if he ever wants to) except to say it was a blast to watch and very exciting as Eric notched his first ATP Tour win. Self admittedly, Eric said he didn't play well, but I think the W wiped all the frustrations aside. So at the end of the day Eric and Ashley Fisher beat Sam Querrey and Jesse Witten 3-6, 6-3, 10-6. Celebratory dinner to follow. Tim and Jan Butorac proceeded to take us all out (one other couple - friends of Eric's) out to Buca De Peppos for dinner. I'll state the time just to try to elicit some sympathy for Josh...it was about 9'ish or so and we hadn't slept for 38 hours or so. Anyway, Josh looked like he was auditioning for Night of the Living Dead. It was kind of embarrassing ;) I don't think he said more than 5 words all dinner..."Bud Light" responding to waitress, and "Thanks for dinner" to Tim and Jan. I tell you, the South St. Paul 'party mystique' is drastically plumetting.
On the walk home, Josh finally started talking...he and I were going on and on about how we couldn't wait to get into the Heavenly Bed tonight...yes a full night of manly cuddling to follow. Well, truth be told, the Heavenly Bed didn't live up to its name. It wasn't a bad night's sleep, it just wasn't anywhere close to the euphoria we felt during that splendid 5 minute nap when we first arrived. But after listening to several of Eric's stories throughout the years during his rise to the ATP, it was 100x better than some of the 'beds' (and I was told to use that term loosely) Eric has had the pleasure to sleep on.
On to day two. It started off with the realization that the Heavenly Bed was more like Pergatory...it wasn't hell, but it sure wasn't the Heaven I remembered from the morning before. Both Josh and I work up with stiff backs...and no it was because of the cuddling. We didn't roll out of bed until Eric had left for practice and decided to find a resturaunt serving breakfast food instead of fraternizing with the players at their breakfast. South St. Paul is about to shine...be warned. Let me remind you in case you've forgotten in this monster post that Josh and I are at the Westin...I can only imagine what the room rates are. We are downtown Indianapolis (which *was* very clean/nice actually), not really the rural Midwest that we are all used to. Josh picks up the phone and calls the front desk...
"Is there a Perkins within walking distance?" Now, I laughed at this comment for a couple reasons...first I'm not even sure Perkins is in IN and secondly, I know that if there is one here, it isn't within walking distance of where we are. But it continues to get better :) The front desk transferred Josh to the conceirge. Josh's South St. Paul roots came shining through here. Again he asked about a 'Perkins', but then had to provide additional information by saying a 'breakfast resturaunt' and the conceirge started to give him directions to Le Pettos. Granted that name does sound a bit fancy, but then Josh busts out, "Is it cheap?" I just put my head in my hands and laughed. At least we weren't standing face to face with the man and at least the hotel room was in Eric's name, so all in all my 'rep' was still intact ;) After breakfast, we laid around for a bit then hit the work out room for a while before heading down to the courts.
The second day, the tennis was much more enjoyable and entertaining. It started out with a little ride to the court with Marat Safin in the player transport. Josh and I were sitting there in silence...I think both a little intimidated to say anything out loud, but then we started making fun of a couple things we were seeing on the trip down there and Safin popped in with a couple cracks himself. So I thought here was my chance to chat with one of the 'big boys'. It turns out that Eric was stung by a bee right when he arrived at Indy and his arm was all swollen and got a rash and what not. So he was visiting the trainer and Marat was also there...looking like death warmed over. I guess he was extremely sick. So I used my 'inside information' as the ice breaker.
"Marat, I heard you were a little under the weather, how are you feeling?"
"Yeah it is hot out isn't it?" So my 'ice breaker' really broke :( Marat speaks 3 languages fluently *for sure*, not sure if others, but has Russian, Spanish, and English. He would have understood me if I asked again, but I'm sure he wasn't expecting the slouch in the back seat to ask him anything and all he heard was 'weather' and responded to that. Frazzled, I just dropped the conversation there as I didn't know what else to talk to him about, lol. It was still fun riding over in the car with him to the courts though...more than most people will get to say, and he is one of my favorite players!
We started off watching the first set of Dominic Hrbaty vs Kenneth Carlsen. The 'Dominator' came out fast with a 3-1 lead, but then fell apart to lose the first set 6-3. We went to watch my new favorite player Thiago Alves vs Nicolas Mahut (Mahut played 3 tight sets against Federer at Wimby) figuring we'd come back to catch the third set of the Dominator but it was not to be his day as he went down 3 & 2. But again, that first set was fun tennis to watch. When we got over to the Alves and Mahut match, they had just started the third set and we settled in for the war! I like Alves because a) he's a 'grinder'...doesn't have a ton of firepower but looks sweet running corner to corner ripping the ball and b) he's feisty (like yours truly). Second game of the third set, Mahut hit a short lob over Alves head when Mahut was standing on the service line. Mahut saw that his lob was short and still 'closed in' towards the net. Well, Alves decided it was time to 'buzz the tower' for all you Top Gun fans. He rocketed an overhead that just barely missed Mahut. He tried to 'feign' an apology but Mahut was having none of it. He just ignored Alves for 30-40 seconds and wouldn't acknowledge his apology. Just my kind of match...bad blood!. It was a fun third set and they blasted the ball back and forth but Alves went down. I just checked the draw and Mahut is still marching through it, as he is into the semis against James Blake. After that match, we went back over to the Grandstand court to watch Benjamin Becker vs Dmitry Tursunov. This was probably the best singles match we'd seen the whole time. These two were great and Josh and I came away as new fans of both players I think. Couple funny things...I was sitting next to some goof ball and his girlfriend and he was trying to impress her and gave her the 'vital' information of the match..."Hey this is Boris Becker...he has the biggest serve on tour!" I just chuckled to myself, luckily Benjermin Becker has a big serve, so his girlfriend was fooled. Also, Eric had mentioned it before that Tursunov was a character and some how I stumbled onto his blog he wrote for the ATP (Eric says each player has to blog at least one week at one tournament). It is definately hilarious and worth a read. Check it out.
By now, the temperature had reached 90s+ I'm sure and I was sweating as if I was in a 5 set war myself. Anyone that has seen me come off the court or after a run, knows how brutal my sweating can get. Pretty embarrassing...especially because Josh wanted to go to the players lounge, but I was sweating so bad and because of the way I was hunching over watching the match it was dripping down on my Khacky shorts in the 'perfect spot'. There was a dry gap around my waist and all my sweat was pooling in an area that made it look like I pissed myself! :S Great, the All Access Aura was quickly shrinking. And as any 'Super Sweater' knows, once you try to 'control' it or calm down, the sweating only intensifies. Luckily it was as hot out as it was, because I realized I could just lean back and let the sun cook my shorts and dry them out, praying that two things happened. First that no one around would see my 'accident' and secondly that my back and butt wouldn't start sweating like crazy. I figured ignorance was bliss and didn't even check to see what my back side looked like. After drying off the front, Josh and I went into the players lounge to get some Gatorades and hang around until Eric's match against the #1 seeds. On the way over to the lounge, Andy Roddick was practicing with his shirt off, so Josh figured he better get a couple pictures of him for his fiance Julie - hopefully the pictures don't change her mind ;) We were about two feet away from him, basically standing on the 'sideline' of his court watching and snapping pictures. Also inside the lounge, James Blake showed up - I think doing 'charity work' or something - and played ping pong for a while with this little girl. She was obviously having the time of her life and it seemed like Blake was genuinely a good guy - I've always liked him before this anyway.
So now, we were just lounging for an hour with Eric as he laid low waiting for his match. Things were pretty relaxed as we waited for his court to open. I didn't want to talk/bother him too much so not a lot of conversation, just watching TV/tennis. The match was about to start, so I wished him good luck and headed out to the court. Again, will not comment on the match too much, but it definately was a notch higher in quality. The #1 seeds were pretty much impenetrable. They hit every ball so solid and Eric and Fisher were doing the same. I let out a few emotion filled yells during the second set, but just a few points here and there cost them the match as they went down 6-2, 6-4 (each of the 3 breaks were a loss on a No-Ad point - for anyone that wants to know I can explain what that means, but I hate the No Ad scoring the ATP has enforced for doubles). One of the good things for Eric was that he was able to basically win his serve at will against one of the top teams in the world. That had to help his marketability. He was broke once in the second set, but that included a bad call from the linesman, a double fault, and unfortunately a missed volley that I'm sure Eric would agree he should have put away on game point. So other than that one lapse, Eric was the most impressive server on the court.
After the match we congratulated Eric and thanked him for the great weekend. Definately the way to go to these tournaments if you can swing it! Josh and I each paid about $170 for two days of free food, lodging (cuddling free of charge), chauffers, and some sweet tennis. Thanks again Eric if you read this! Used our All Access authority one more time as we lined up transportation back to the Westin. Josh praying for a miracle asked if the driver ever takes the 'Rochester, MN route'...trying to weasel a ride home in the Mercedes. The driver of course laughed at his joke...not knowing we were serious ;) Josh and I quickly packed up and got on the road back to Rochester as it was about 7:30pm by the time we left so we figured we'd roll in about 2:30am or so. Unfortunately the trip home wasn't the smoothest. We had a couple quick stops for food and gas and were driving along making good time, only to see some lightening off in the distance. Josh was quick to pull up his computer and hit the Internet to check out the weather on our trip home and it looked like we were driving straight into the 'Perfect Storm'. Around Madison, WI the rain started and I could see Josh start to get 'nervous' ;) He quickly packed up his laptop, put away his pop, and got into the 'spotter' position and he was watching the road 'lines' like a hawk. It was raining pretty bad, but coming from the professional driving pedigree that I come from (Dad was a truck driver that never let a few sprinkles slow him down), I just kept the hammer down and kept driving. Josh was so scared he even pulled out the line 'Terry, come on you got kids!' on me as I was passing a semi at one point. I mean come on, people of South St. Paul, I'm losing respect more and more...I'd never heard so much crying since my son Josh's circumcision (we may have to file for a name change if Feldman doesn't step it up). Obviously since I'm writing this post, we made it home safe and sound. I got home about 3:30 and Josh finished his trek up to St. Paul by 4:30. I was a bit wired after the drive and had a hard time falling asleep, finally dozing off around 4:15 or so, only to be woke up by Audrey's new 'trick'. Ann brought her into bed with us around 6am, so of course she wiggles her way over to me (I'm saying that, but what really happens, is Ann lays her next to me and then scrambles to the other side of the bed). So her new trick (she's 5.5 months old) is to start 'smacking' you until you wake up and play with her. So she's sitting there slapping me in the face and shoulder, I swear Ann was just laying there laughing the whole time, but finally after an hour of getting beat up, I finally pryed my eyes open and took her to the living room to play with Audrey.
...back to real life...at least until the next ATP tourney is within driving range again.