Hi guys, in the comments section of Conal's excellent fan story from the Australian Open we got talking about a lack of a fan story from Brisbane this year.
Step forward April who attended the event and has just put together a really cool piece about her experiences in Brisbane and watching Federer live on Pat Rafter Arena for three days straight. Take it away April.
Thanks Jonathan for this opportunity to post my fan story. I have been following this blog for a long time but I just barely spoke . Always enjoy Jonathan's analysis and people and comments.
It was during USO last year that Roger announced he was going back to Brisbane in 2015. I realised it'd be the ‘now or never' opportunity for me. He was in great form in 2014 and he would definitely carry that on to early 2015, wouldn't he? 2016? Who knows what will happen. Originally I was only planning to go to Melbourne as costs would be too great to travel to both places as a family of four. But heck, after his announcement I thought, who cares, it's once in your life time experience. Melbourne is no guarantee to see Roger but should be a much better chance in Brisbane. It turned out I was totally right!
I bought tickets for Thu and Fri night and Sat's semis. A good thing about smaller tournament is the schedule is much more predictable: you're almost certain that Roger will make it to the quarter; you're almost certain that he will be placed in the night sessions and they actually told you Sat day session was going to be men's semis. How good is that!
Before Christmas I bought two fan's t-shirts and prepared two banners that say ‘Go Roger!' and “peRFect'. When the tournament started I noticed in the early matches no one in the crowd was waving any ‘home-made' banner so I was a bit concerned they were not allowed as Brisbane had the reputation of being strict on ‘advertising materials'. I rang the organiser to make sure they would be ok before I packed the banners in the luggage.
Roger was originally scheduled to play his first match on Wed night – he even announced it on his social media but for some reason he was rescheduled to appear first on Thu. I couldn't be happier but also felt sorry for so many people who bought Wed just for him! We landed on Brisbane early Thu afternoon. After a quick dinner we took the train to the venue. I was wearing a bright red t-shirt that said ‘Rogerer was betterer' and I made my husband wear one of those Nike ‘Betterer' shirts. We were a bit late with some drama with the train because no one at the train station knew which train was going to the tennis centre (?!). As we were making our way in the stadium the women's match between Ivanovic and Kanepi was about to start. I was immediately drawn into the whole live atmosphere – the crowd, the lights, the live actions, it's so different from TV! It's simply amazing and unbelievable to be there as part of the action. Also sitting so close to the court, I truly felt I was PART OF IT – my cheer and my claps could even change the result!
The women's match went to distance. By the time it finished, It was 9:30pm, or 10:30 Sydney time. My 4-yr-old son had tossed and turned in his chair and on our laps and begged ‘can we go home now' a thousand times. I ignored him hoping that he'd fall asleep soon as it was way past his bed time. Soon Roger made his way in. We were just a few rows behind his bench! But it also meant that he ‘turned' his back on us the whole time!
It wasn't a good start for Roger. I didn't know much about Millman other than he pushed Andy Murray to the verge when they last met in Brisbane in 2012. In the hindsight of Brisbane and AO, I thought Millman is a pretty ordinary player who happens to get extra high and motivated when facing a top player. But on that humid night he was on a mission to pull the biggest upset of the tournament.
I found it very tough that the crowd was cheering for Millman. There was this group of Aussie fans in the crowd called ‘the Fanatics' who basically go to all sports events with any Aussie athletes to cheer for them. I'm sure you've seen them on TV. They sat on the other side of the court from me so I saw them very well. I couldn't believe Roger was not the crowd's favourite! The Fanatics and others on that side seemed to be cheering really loud for every Millman's point and people went so quite on Roger's. To his credit, Millman was playing way above his usual level, he was very solid and hitting the ball so well. I don't think Roger was even playing badly but he was definitely caught off-guard by Millman's form and visibly frustrated as the match went on. He was soon one set and one break down in the 2nd. The Fanatics went wild.
The cheer for Millman was deafening. My kids were covering their ears. I seemed to be the only one who was waving the banners and cheering for Roger. Someone yelled out ‘Wake up Federer!”. All the people around us were Roger's fans but they were barely making a sound! I supposed too afraid to be judged ‘unAustralian'. I couldn't tell you how nervous I was in the early part of the 2nd set. My hands were sweating yet my mouth was completely dry. Fortunately Roger wasn't going to let the crowd or Millman's form affect him. In fact he might have been annoyed by the crowd a bit and that motivated him. He raised his level after the break down and broke back. From that point on the cheering became more even. He was leading at 5-3.
The most incredible and memorable moment for me came in the 9th game of the second set when Millman was serving and leading 40-30. Roger hit a forehand, the ball tipped the net and dropped on the front part of Millman's side. Millman had to make a huge effort running from the back to pick up the ball. He not only did but also hit a big forehand close at the net. As the ball travelled over, it bounced the net again and went high in the air in the middle of the Roger's side, losing all speed. Roger was in a perfect position to smash the ball with little effort and forced a deuce. Just as everyone was expecting that to happen, right in front of my eyes, Roger just gently returned the ball to Millman who was close to the net at that point and who took it without hesitation and smashed a forehand winner! I was completely stunned so was everyone around me. Almost immediately I understood why Roger had been voted by all players to win the sportsmanship award for 10 years (it's not like I ever doubted it why)! Afterwards I saw on youtube that Roger's return looked like a lob that was lamely done on TV, but it was actually him giving that point and thus that game to Millman for the sake of the first net bounce. It wasn't like Roger was winning miles in that match. He had lost the first set and although was leading in the second and had the momentum it was still a very crucial point. Yet his sportsmanship surpassed his urge to win and at such a crucial moment he almost did it as an instinct. Gees my love and respect for this man just gained miles in one instant.
Roger served out in the next game for that set, to my big relief. The match finished just before mid-night. It's incredible that my children didn't even close their eyes throughout. Together with people's compliment ‘your children are so well behaved', Roger's win was extra sweet on that night. I almost forgot it's just his first match and should have been a much more straight-forward victory!
The next day on Friday, we witnessed one of Roger's shortest match ever, the win over Aussie Duckworth in 38/39 mins. There isn't much to say other than it was funny how I tried to get his signature. Our seats were quite close to the ‘autograph area' so I thought I'd give it a go. I felt very silly though, to fight for a signature with a group of kids so I picked up my son and carried him along. We had to stand in a long queue so I really didn't think I'd have a chance. I went in there anyway, shoving people with my son and the big tennis ball in his hands. As I expected, just as I pushed my way to the front Roger was done.
The match was short so we decided to stay for Maria Sharapova's match. I can second what Conal said in his story about Maria's scream. It really wasn't bad at all, given the intensity of her groundstrokes. It's another thing TV tricks you: women's games can in fact be really powerful and intense too and are indeed so on the top levels. I actually came to like Maria after this match as she seems to be a nice and genuine person who sincerely appreciates the crowd's support.
On Sat I went along to the tournament by myself. It was the two men's semis. I must look so clumsy and funny holding my big tennis ball, three banners, a drink bottle and a rather heavy camera in my big handbag, with a big hat on my head. I arrived at the venue quite early hoping to catch Roger's training session. It was at court 10 where I saw a small board saying ‘Roger Federer scheduled to warm up at 12:30”. It has passed 12:30 but no one was there. A few people were having lunch at a table outside. No staffer was around. I stood there in the sun and waited. I waited and waited until about 1:15. It didn't look like anything would happen. People strolled past casually. Absolutely no sign a big star like Roger was going to emerge anywhere. I decided to leave to watch the semi between Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic.
My seat was right next to one of the player's boxes which turned out to be Kei and Roger's! I was so close to the players when they were at my side of the court, although a lineman was constantly blocking my view. I could almost feel the air move when they swung their rackets, and their sweat when they ran past. I quite like Kei too so I was cheering for him and waving my banner the whole time. It was a big shame how he lost. I was also quite amazed at how composed and emotionless Milos Raonic was on court, given his age. He seems to be a very mature kid.
No one expected such a clinical win by Roger over Dimitrov. It was probably one of the best match Roger has played in recent months. There was a lot of variety in his game and everything he tried worked. Dimitrov seemed to be completely stunned and couldn't find an answer. The match finished quite quickly under an hour. It's funny that Severin and Roger's trainer were seating right next to me. I was peeking at Severin every now and then. Knowing how important he was to Roger's career I felt I couldn't take an enough look at this important man. I was too shy to ask him for a signature, only took a picture secretly. Before the match started Severin was constantly waving upwards towards some glass window on top of the court. That's when I realised Mirka and the kids were hiding up high in one of those VIP rooms! I could just see them vaguely.
Roger finished his on-court interview and walked towards the autograph area which was where Severin was seating, I had to make a decision to try and squeeze in the line to get his autograph or stay where I was and take close-up photos of him. I don't know why I couldn't just take a few quick pictures when he was still at the other end of the line then dropped the camera to join the queue. My brain wasn't functioning in the face of His Majesty's glamour, I guess. Anyway I decided to get his signature. So I stretched my arm with my ball as Roger was signing and moving towards my end. When he finished the person one person away from me, he felt he had enough and gestured to stop. Ohh no! Although I was no more a little girl screaming at the sight of big celebrity stars, I still couldn't help but feeling so disappointed! As Roger turned and walked back, a woman jumped in the queue and said ‘Roger can I have a quick selfie with you', before Roger could respond, she pushed her face next to Roger and pressed the button! My jaw dropped – I'm never this type in nature so I'll probably never get anything from Roger. But I soon got over my disappointment. I'd consider my trip to Brisbane International 2015 ended on a high note -being so close to actions was totally awesome. Having watched Roger play and win three matches was simply a dream came true. Moreover, I still had the Sydney exhibition and AO to look forward to!
During those three days, two small encounters with other Federer's fans really warmed my heart. On the first day I was waiting in the toilet before the match. I was wearing the red ‘Rogerer was betterer' shirt. A woman wearing a red RF hat went out of a toilet. She looked at me and I looked at her. We both smiled; we didn't say a word. But that smile said a lot. It felt as though a special connection sparked between us, bonded by our common admiration for one man. The second time I was stopped by a lady when I was walking out of the train station towards the stadium. I was wearing the Nike ‘Betterer' shirt. It so happened that on that day's training Roger was wearing the same shirt. The woman stopped me and said, ‘I shook his hand today. At the training. He was wearing this shirt. He was such a gentleman'. I was like, ‘ohh lucky you!' She continued, ‘there wasn't many people you know. He was such a gentlemen, so nice and humble. We had a little chat and we walked together after his training.' I was really enjoying that moment and what she had to tell me. I wasn't feeling ‘damn I missed it' at all. I knew I wasn't going to catch all the moments with my family around. I was simply happy for this lady and enjoyed a first-hand testimonial of someone saying what a real gentleman Roger was. It's incredible strangers can easily crack a conversation and establish a special bond because of Roger.
On a slightly unrelated note, in light of all these recent terror attacks in Australia and Europe and the threat of IS, I must admit for many times I think of sports as the only medium that cuts across all nations, continents, races, religions and ideology. I wonder, do those terrorists watch sports and tennis too? Would they listen and drop their weapons, if their favourite player like Roger Federer, went up to them with a group of Western leaders behind him and said, ‘come on mate, let's have a chat'??