Most tennis fans will have a bucket list of tournaments they would like to visit and Monte Carlo has always been on mine. Not too far, wonderful location but how to make it happen…..?
Lucky lucky me then to receive an invitation through friends to finally attend this year's Masters, made more special by the fact that Rog would finally make his comeback post surgery! Allez!
It is somewhat ironic that The Monte-Carlo Masters actually takes place in France, at Roquebrune Cap-Martin, just on the border, at surely one of the most gloriously scenic private Country Clubs in the tennis universe! The stands are temporary and for the rest of the year 3 more clay courts are uncovered for the Members to enjoy!
For most Europeans, it is also one of the most accessible tournaments. Nice airport is only 30 mins away ( albeit at 95 euros in a taxi, where's Uber??) and Italy a mere hop over the border! Hence the very international feel you find once inside the grounds!
We arrived on Tuesday, full of anticipation for Roger's match, 3rd on…
Although we were guests, it is very easy in the first part of the week to pick up tickets, on line or even “outside the ground” at face value! Queens? Take note!!
The first thing that strikes you is the relaxed vibe; sure, you can dress to the nines if you want, but it is very much the jeans, T shirt and sun hat brigade, far less stuffy than I anticipated! It also has a very Mediterranean feel, probably as much to do with the warm sun and being right on the sea! You can walk everywhere, linger by the practice courts, buy a tennis racquet, update your tennis outfit or simply sit looking at the sea eating a baguette, drinking Rose! PeRFect!
Imagine my joy when we found ourselves in our little corporate box on Rainier, right at court level, opposite the umpire's chair… Cld not have been better! Very spoilt!
The court is actually pretty small and tight, not a huge run back and as the weather was warm it played medium fast. The balls used were pretty speedy so it is made for attacking clay tennis! Easy to understand how Rafa has won so much here with his rearing top spin..
It looks similar to Roland Garros, same colourings, and sponsors, all very harmonious and pretty!
It is also quite noisy! This is definitely not Wimbledon and all the better for it! The rhythmic hum of quiet chatter is felt throughout as fans discuss “le passing” or answer their phones!! These fans know their tennis and show it!
And so to the matches that Tuesday!
Dimitrov v Simon was typical of Grigor's season to date, promising much, delivering little as Simon's steadiness won over Grigor's singular lack of tactics… Maybe Grigor should reconsider “Good to Great” again as they are certainly yielding results elsewhere…?
Time for lunch and the chance to watch Andy Murray & PHH from the Terrace! Monte Carlo is beautifully constructed for the spectator, and from the Club restaurant on the terrace, the view of the court looking seaward is spectacular, as you tuck into a delicious lunch and knock back the chilled vino!
As we know Andy laboured his way past doubles specialist PHH which gave us plenty of time to admire the sparkling blue sea beyond the stands, do a bit of player spotting and prepare for Rog!!
Back in our seats, I found I was suddenly as nervous as hell for Federer's comeback! I know GGL is a steady clay courter, but surely his mixed results and lack of firepower would allow Rog to settle back into his rhythm and come through? I had totally irrationally thoughts that Rog wouldn't actually be able to hit a ball, that we would just see Federror, and Shankerer….despite the fact that he had been there for 11 days practising…?
And then he was there, greeted by an enormous roar of appreciation by an absolutely packed house! Goose bumps!! Sheer joy! Looking golden, lean and ready! And in a fabulous outfit, well done Nike, (always been a polo fan)! As they warmed up I relaxed a little as I could see Rog was hitting smoothly, my attention suddenly diverted by the fact that his player box was right below me and that Mirka, Lynette, Ljub, and Daniel ( physio) were within touching distance….?? Bonus!
The match was just what Fedfans wanted, enough rallies to see he was actually hitting cleanly, moving well and glad to be back! Jonathan has said it all but I could see that the serve is not quite back.. Whether that's the push off ( knee bend) or just rustiness, I don't know but he sent quite a few very long which does indicate he can't quite get up and over the ball. The good news was his return, particularly on the BH!
In the end he won comfortably and his relief was palpable in his on court interview! He was pleased with everything! He knows practice is very different to a real match! He knew the knee would be tested! Thumbs up! Good to have you back Maestro!
After the match, we saw a bit of Tsonga/ Carreno-Busta ( pity he lost…?), said “Hi” to one of my fav photographers Marianne Bevis ( check out her Twitter, blog & Tumblr), then wandered around buying the requisite tournament hat and watching a few players, Rosol, Vesely, Bopanna, on the practice courts!
A glorious early morning walk, up in the hills highlights how easy it is to get away from the Coast and enjoy the local sights on offer!
Back at the tennis, in the same box, we were dazzled by Stan's new shirt and shoes, and observed his GF, Donna Vekic loudly cheering him on before eating yet another delicious lunch! Just as well we went on that walk!!
Nadal came and went, efficiently disposing of Bedene and so to Novak! And look how that turned out! Boris Becker limped stiffly past us to the box with the full ND entourage… If ever there is an advert for how you can suffer from too much tennis too young, BB is it!!
Novak looked pretty relaxed. We had seen him arrive on his bike earlier ( he lives locally) and didn't expect Vesely (who has had a poor start to 2016), to offer much resistance! Well… How wrong we were!
It soon became clear that Vesely was just “on”. His 1st and 2nd serve stats in the first set were just ridiculous and Novak had no answer. However, no one expected Jiri to win, especially when Novak took the 2nd set so easily. But Jiri was not to be denied, raised his game, and intensity in set 3, while Novak looked mentally fried! The crowd absolutely roared Jiri over the line and the upset of the year so far was complete! To be honest, I do think this has been coming. Novak was not at his best in IW and Miami, winning ugly against oppo who should have won. He is without doubt mentally exhausted and hinted at this in his presser! Time for a break!
What a day, what a buzz!
Lovely walk by the sea, then a quick look at the preparation going on for the Grand Prix… Sat in the car on pole position at one point! Ha! Just bizarre! You cannot imagine a Grand Prix taking place on those narrow twisty roads! Scary!
And back to the tennis! Roger again, but my last day! Would I see him? No corporate tix, but great seats high in the stands in full sun! ☀️☀️Factor 50 needed! Very warm indeed, and I felt I could have dived into the sea at one point! Maybe landing on a millionaire's yacht..? Rog was scheduled 3rd on v RBA who again worried me as tremendously consistent. However, has never taken a set from Fed!!
But first to the other matches! We arrived to find Benoit a set and a break up! Hurrah! We will see all of Roger! But no, Benoit and Andy proceeded to have the messiest match in a long time, and we all know how it ended! Seeing a choke from close quarters is quite something! French, rabbit, headlights come to mind…
So, knowing we had Rafa next I was resigned to missing Fed! Ok then, let's enjoy seeing Thiem live for the first time!
And that was quite a match! Thiem has incredible easy power, a quite beautiful high bouncing top spin BH and they both just absolutely went for it! Superb high quality rallies, but Rafa had the stronger mind. Saving 15/17 BP's is quite a feat! Hats off! And Thiem? Needs a volley, needs clearer thinking and more subtlety on big points, not just power, but as he keeps gaining experience and adds to his game, I see a Slam winner right there! ??
There is also no doubting Rafa's commitment to getting back to the top and he is absolutely adored by the fans here! Novak, it ain't just Rog love you are battling.?
So with just 30 mins before I had to leave, I had the opportunity to once applaud Roger onto the Rainier court! Thank you tennis gods!
It very quickly became clear that RBA is not at his most comfortable on clay, doesn't slide well, prefers hard and his shots don't spin through the court! Another win for Rog beckoned!
I said my goodbyes to Rog and Monte-Carlo Masters as Rog broke serve to lead 3-2! As we reached the car, 15 minutes later, he was a set to the good! ??
It had been a great 3 days, with a lot of good tennis, wonderful weather, good food and I felt completely reenergised! Did I expect Rog to win thru to the QF's? Probably not, but he did and I look forward to the rest of the clay season now!
This trip was one of the best tennis experiences of my life!
Go, tennis fans, you won't regret it! ❤️❤️Monte Carlo!