As some of you might know, I was lucky enough to be able to go to London to attend the 2014 ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena and see the one and only Roger Federer. I was there for the entire tournament. It was an otherworldly and surreal experience and I have been struggling to find the words to adequately describe it. I’ve had quite a few false starts with this post but each time I think about that week, a thousand different memories rush into my mind and swirl around in a chaotic frenzy, leaving me at a loss for any coherent thought let alone a full sentence. Thus I decided to do 2 posts; one dedicated to Roger and only Roger and the other one to everything else. I’m going to do the easier one first – Everything But Roger.
When my friends, family and co-workers heard I was planning to take a week off to go to London they all had a quizzical look on their face, “You saved up to go to an expensive city like London, that too in winter?” But that’s just it though. While I would love a beach holiday, to me, a week of only tennis with nothing else to worry about is the best holiday ever! All I did for 8 days was WATCH LIVE TENNIS and it was heaven! Because you see, not only was I there just for tennis but everyone in the Arena was also there for the same reason. It’s a great feeling when you realize you are not alone in your obsession; there are over 17,000 people who came to the O2 each day who shared my insanity.
For instance, while waiting for an autograph from Roger I spoke with a young man from France who was in RF gear from head to toe, literally – an RF hat, RF shirt and RF sneakers 🙂 He not only goes to Roland Garros and Bercy each year but has also gone to Basel, Halle and even across the Atlantic to Indian Wells. Then there were the two men in their late 50s I started chatting with while waiting to get on the tube one night. They live in Los Angeles in the US and have been going to the Australian Open for the past 16 years and they have attended the World Tour Finals each year since the time it shifted to Shanghai. They excitedly told me they got Roger’s autograph at Indian Wells this year.
Then there was a woman who sat in the empty seat next to me before Roger’s match, to take some photos of the doubles players close-up. We realized we were each wearing an RF hat and of course started to chat. She said she flew in with her friend from Brazil just for this tournament and for Roger. I also remember the British woman who sat on the steps outside the O2 where I was sitting and having my sandwich before the night session. She was trying to sell her ticket to the Andy-Milos match 😉 For the next 20 minutes we had a lovely chat about our champ (yes, also a Roger fan) and tennis and when my sandwich was done, we bid farewell.
All these encounters were fleeting and at the end of the day none of us knew each other’s names. We will probably never see one another again but in that moment we shared a common story and I cannot explain to you how life-affirming that is. Not only do you realize you aren’t the only one who is a Crazy Fed Fan 😉 but also that there are people from all walks of life, from all corners of the world who understand your passion and that all of us together are part of a community that transcends borders, religions, cultures and languages. It’s a powerful emotion to feel that connection and I hope everyone gets to experience those moments like I did with the wonderful myriad of fans at the O2. Below are some shots of the amazing O2 Arena with the blue court, blue hued crowds and that blue heartbeat ❤Of course, for every awesome fan I met there were a few annoying ones; yes I am thinking of you, short, bald guy who pushed me and then also pushed Efie off the stairs as you elbowed everyone else just so you could be the first to reach the bottom of the stairs and wait for Roger to come to his practice session. I am glad you didn’t get his autograph that day! But for the most part, the fan experience was just lovely and they added to my week of tennis heaven. Plus, during Roger’s matches my fellow Federer fans were amazing! The O2 showed him so much love each and every night and that includes his match with Andy as well. It was amazing to see the Arena change from a non-Roger session to a Roger one because the crowd transformed into a sea of red and white with RF banners, RF posters, RF gear and Swiss flags of all sizes waving proudly for our hero 😀
As for the O2 Arena itself, I have nothing but praise for it. It will be hard to match the show this tournament puts on in London if it moves to a new location from 2016. The Arena is easily accessible with the tube stop only 30 seconds away, the practice sessions are close-up and free and the organizers give the event a concert-like feel with the spotlight solely on the court in the center of the crowd sitting in near-darkness. I really like the idea of getting to see a doubles match in each session because we rarely get to see doubles matches on TV, and even then, they hardly get the same importance as singles. In this tournament, with every session you are guaranteed two totally different styles of tennis matches. You can see a tiny snapshot of the doubles matches in the collage below.A quick word about the tickets. All of my tickets were on Level 1 so I won’t be able to comment on the experience of watching the event from higher up in Level 4. What I can tell you is that even if you are in the last row, Row Z of Level 1, you will still get a very good view of the court. I have sat on both sides of the court as well as at the opposite end from the TV view. I never sat in the corner sections so those are the only ones I can’t tell you much about. My mixed bag of seats were as close as Row C to as far back as Row X and while obviously Row C is better than Row X, if only Row X tickets are available, don’t think they are too far away regardless of what section you are in.
As for what section of Level 1 to buy tickets for, I would say the sides of the court are the most fun. You don’t get that view of the court on TV so it’s a different vantage point. It also gives you a much better idea of how long the court is and how much the players actually run. Plus, if you choose the side the players sit on, you will see them up-close when they come out to the court and also when they come back to the bench during changeovers but then their backs will be towards you. If you are on the other side, they won’t be as close but when they sit across from you during changeovers, they will be facing you so you can happily click away a zillion photos.
There are also very practical reasons why I chose to attend this tournament rather than any other. First and foremost, my goal was to see Roger and unlike other tournaments, even if Roger loses his first match at the World Tour Finals, I still get to see him 3 times due to the Round Robin format. After spending all that money to get to a tournament, it is good to know that I will see him at least 3 times no matter the results. Obviously I get to see the other top 8 players in the world at least 3 times each as well which is awesome. Also, the matches are indoors so no rain delays or suspensions. Lastly, I don’t know any other European languages besides English so getting around in London is super easy for me. You can see the collage below for the outside of the O2 Arena and the inside as well, including the fan zones and practice courts.Lastly, I want to quickly thank the organizers and Andy Murray in particular for trying to save the final day of the tournament. The organizers did the best they could in the short time they had and Andy was pure class for jumping in at the last minute. I felt awful for fans that only had tickets for the final and I knew I was lucky that I had seen 7 days of tennis already, otherwise that day would have sucked.
If I could change one thing about the World Tour Finals, it would be how slow the surface is, especially how it was this year. It was a dream for Novak to play on but Milos and Marin suffered badly since it gave absolutely nothing to the big servers. Even veterans like Roger and Tomáš had the same problem. But unlike Milos, Marin and even Tomáš to a certain extent, Roger has 3 additional trunks of tools and weapons so he wasn’t as hampered by his lack of aces and first serves as the other 3 were.
Before ending the post, I want to talk a bit about the other 7 players who qualified this year. The 3 youngsters Kei, Milos and Marin performed pretty much how I expected them to. I had a feeling Marin wouldn’t do well at all. I also had a feeling Roger would be too much for Milos as his first match in London. I knew Kei would perform the best of the three but I have to say I was surprised by him nonetheless. I don’t think I realized exactly how good a player Kei is till I saw him live. He is SUPER fast. He may have been the shortest of the 8 players but he can cover the court like nobody’s business. He has a mean, lethal backhand too and he hits the ball very cleanly. His personality is understated but I think that’s what makes him dangerous; people tend to underestimate him. His game doesn’t have a lot of flair but it’s effective and gets the job done.
To be honest, Kei reminded me a bit of Novak’s style. Like Novak, his court coverage is amazing, his backhand is scary and he keeps coming back, getting his racquet on every damn ball. Of course unlike Novak, he isn’t super fit and his serve has a lot of room for improvement. His mental prowess is not even close to the Big 3 or the other veterans on tour. But he can work on all those departments in the years to come. Meanwhile, I can safely say that it’s not a fluke he’s ranked 5 in the world. He doesn’t have the serve of Milos and Marin or the fancy shots of Grigor but his game is solid, fast and relentless. I can foresee the next generation being exasperated at trying to knock him out in vain. As for this generation, for now I hope Roger never has to face him again *sigh*
However, while I expected the newbies to falter, I was surprised by how bad the losses of Tomáš to Stan, Stan to Novak and Andy to Roger were. I expected all three losses but the margins threw me for a loop. I can understand the Andy-Roger match a little bit. Andy had been playing nonstop for weeks and even his backup reserves were probably empty by then. On the other hand, I cannot even begin to describe what a perfect match Roger played that night but that’s for another post. The other two matches, I’m not entirely sure why they were this lopsided and I can imagine how disappointed their fans must have been. You can see a sample of some of the photos I took of the singles players. Row 1: Feliciano and Stan at practice, Andy signing autographs, David playing as an alternate. Row 2: Andy, Kei, Tomáš and Novak.A separate comment on Novak. Believe it or not he played better in the 2013 and 2012 editions than this year. The results won’t say that because he won his group by a landslide but in 2012 he had in-form Andy and Jo in his group and in 2013 he had Roger and Del Potro. If his 2014 group had Roger and Kei, he would have had much bigger problems. His group this year didn’t push him to dig deep. I knew Marin and Tomáš wouldn’t but I had hoped Stan would give him a fight at least but that didn’t happen. He finally faced a test with Kei who did push him as we saw. Of course he came up with the win when he needed to but in terms of strictly his level of play, he didn’t have a very good World Tour Finals this year compared to 2012 and 2013. Had Roger been able to play the final I honestly don’t know who would have won. Roger didn’t play very well himself in the SFs and was of course exhausted after that battle. Plus Novak already had hours more rest time than Roger so maybe in the end that would have decided the outcome. All I know is Novak looked more vulnerable this year than the previous two years which makes it even sadder for me as Federer fan that Roger didn’t get a shot at that match.
My last thought is about the new generation. Clearly, this was the year they made significant strides and 3 of them made it to London. The London 8 had 4 of the usual suspects of Roger, Novak, Andy and Tomas. Also let’s not forget that Rafa withdrew. Had Rafa been there, Milos would have missed out. But the way it worked out, it was 4 experienced players, 1 second timer and 3 making their debuts. So the rocky results didn’t surprise me as much because unlike other tournaments, in the ATP World Tour Finals players face off against the best from match 1 which has to be tough both physically and mentally especially for the new players. Thus we had yet another year where #1 and #2 reached the final and we also ended the 6th year (2007-2011 and 2014) with Roger, Rafa and Novak occupying the top 3 spots. Even in 2012 and 2013, 2 of the Big 3 were in the top 3. To me this suggests two conclusions. One, the new generation still has a way to go. Two, we should give credit and be amazed at Roger, Rafa and Novak for their unwavering hold on the top 3 no matter who knocks on their door. Beyond the titles, consistency is a big reason why this group is termed the golden generation.
Well that concludes my looooong Everything-But-Roger London post. It was an amazing trip and I am truly blessed to have been able to go, especially because of how close I was to not going at all. I know many fans thought this was the worst tournament of the year due to the one-sided matches but to me, being able to live, breathe, eat, sleep, talk, think, and dream only tennis was an indescribably wonderful and intoxicating experience. I will never, ever forget it and I am eternally grateful for those 8 magical days. Thanks for reading and wish me luck in trying to write my Only-Roger post; I’m getting emotional even thinking about it!
I leave you with a collection of photos of various ATP tournaments in 2014 that was on one the walls of the Fan Zone area. I liked the idea so I took photos of the wall and put them in one place so I could share them here 🙂 Please click all the collages for a closer look!