La Decima Part 2 of 3: Watching My Childhood Friend Play on the World Stage

RG 2017

As I left Roland-Garros that Monday evening, my mind was in a myriad of emotions. Getting to be part of the centre court crowd, watching some world class players playing their best tennis, the whole atmosphere that made Roland-Garros special – the cosy stadiums (Philippe Chatrier is the smallest centre court of the 4 Grand Slams), the love for Rafa, the crowd sipping on their champagne on a hot June afternoon, the big screens outside, airing all the popular matches- these were memories I would carry for a lifetime. But there were also the disappointments; I was unable to watch Rafael Nadal. Yes, I did have tickets for the finals, but would he make it for the finals? After all, the beauty of a live game is that the next moment is unpredictable; unpredictability is what makes a live game so much fun! With these thoughts, my friend and I walked back to our hotel, and spent the whole of next day trying to get tickets for Rafa’s second round. And we did finally manage to get a ticket!

Meanwhile, something closer to my heart and very special to me was the fact that I was going to watch Rohan Bopanna play at the French Open. My childhood friend, someone who I met at our local sports club in Coorg every day while growing up; tomorrow I would be watching him play on the world stage, battling it out with the best tennis players in the world. As soon as the draws and schedules were out, I got 2 passes from Rohan to watch the match, and we were set. Day 4 of the French open, and our second day there was going to be even more exciting than the first!

The fan moment

31st May,2017 : Day 4 at the French Open, and our second visit

As I made my way through the lovely walk to Roland-Garros for the second time, Paris started to feel like home. I was walking without a map, or stopping to ask for directions. This time I got to avoid the huge queue as I entered through a different entrance at Roland-Garros (courtesy the passes I had received from Rohan). I went in, and today there was something different in the air. The tournament felt more personal now, closer to the heart, with more at stake.

I went to court 17, where I met another childhood friend and his wife, from the same sports club, Madapur club (which happens to be world famous in Coorg 😉 ). I also met Rohan’s wife, and her parents. This sure was starting to feel like home, halfway across the world. We sat, and waited for the players to come in. The match was a simple, straightforward victory for Rohan Bopanna and his partner Pablo Cuevas. But I was watching the match through so many filters and lenses. Am I really in Paris, watching him play? Is this the same boy I used to watch at Madapur club tournaments, when we were children? Has he surpassed all the hurdles a sportsman is put through – the lifetime of discipline; the daily dedication required for hours of grueling practice; the layers of politics a player in India has to fight against daily, against the Association, the senior players, and probably a lot more people; learning to take defeats in stride, and be back in form for the next tournament; the insane hours and months of travelling, and living out of a suitcase; yes he has taken all these obstacles and defeats in his stride, and now he’s out there easily acing his way through some of the best names in tennis. His huge serve and powerful strokes makes him a player to be reckoned with. It was a special day for me indeed. Soon after the match, I ran up to the sidelines, requested him for an autograph on my newly bought French Open cap, and a photograph with him. Little did I know then that he was on his way to making history, and putting India on the world tennis map that week by winning his first Grandslam title along with his mixed doubles partner Gabriella Dabrowski.

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Happy with myself for a morning well spent, I made my way through to centre court, where my friend and I had to share one ticket between the two of us, to go watch Rafa play. All I wanted was to watch about 4-5 sets, to see the man live in action. I waited my turn, and soon went in to watch Rafael Nadal play. All I was thinking at that moment was that even if he does not reach the finals, I will be happy that I atleast got to watch him play, after travelling halfway across the world for it. I sat and waited for him to come on court, and once he started playing, I was rendered speechless. Believe me when I say this, I thought I could feel the Rafa power when I watched him on TV, but this was nothing compared to the raw power and tremendous strength I witnessed as I watched him live. Spanish Matador did they call him? Forget it! He was the entire Spanish Armada by himself! I wanted to cheer, but I was in awe, and all I could manage was not taking my eyes off the most powerful tennis player I had ever seen, with the strength of a bull, the might of an Armada and the intensity of a man playing his first Grand Slam final. As I read in a tweet later, if there was one guy to play a point for your life, without a doubt it would have to be Nadal. He fights for every point like it’s the championship point, he gives his 200% to every match he plays, and you’ll never see or expect anything less from him. Content and on cloud 9, after watching a part of this match, I made my way back outside to watch the rest of the match on the big screen.

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After a wonderful second day at Roland-Garros, we began the beautiful walk down to our hotel once more, passing by River Seine with a view of the Eiffel tower, and the many cafes that dotted our path all the way back to the hotel. We couldn’t help stopping by one of them, and enjoyed a yummy meal of Monsieur Croque, and some sinful Chocolate Mousse.

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