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Tennis Insights From Craig • “Behind The Ropes” • Players Cafe (Lunchroom) And More Observations From Indian Wells

Photo by @BNPPARIBASOPEN via Twitter



In the tennis pantheon, we see names like Serena and Federer, Djokovic and Venus, Rafa and Graf. Immortalized by their victories, they’ve become larger-than-life legends who transcend the game and make fans swoon across the globe. But what then of the other hundreds of unbelievably good players who wander around the courts getting to quarterfinals and earning millions of dollars but not taking home the trophies?


BNP Paribas Tennis Tournament Cafe


Over the last few days I’ve spent some time watching these folks outside of their professional arena. As they throw down pasta and sushi with side salads and smoothies, they lounge to conserve energy. Several top-hundred players travel with their small children and the rest of the tour gives out high-fives and pats on the heads to the kids. They whisper about how cute some of the other players are and they have juggling competitions with soccer balls and then mock each other in infinite jest.


Some hang with their agents, reviewing travel schedules and endorsement contracts and trying to figure out why their new (insert company here) outfit is so bright. In lunch lines, they wrap arms around each other and toss out giant smiles and huge laughs developed from years of professional camaraderie. When they haven’t seen a player in a few weeks, they know how many cheeks to kiss. A few even demonstrate their affinity for each other, stealing behind a palm tree for a quick kissing session. This is the other realm of the tour, the human side, where the lack of competition allows for friendships and business relationships to swell.


That is, until the announcement comes. Their name rings out from across the cafe. It is the coach calling. It is time to prepare. Some choose the brick pathway behind the cafe to perform hand-eye coordination exercises and bang out a few sprints. Others make their way to the famous grass field, where coaches and players engage in soccer games while the day’s competitors work through forty-minute dynamic stretches and mental drills in preparation for their matches.


Catch one of these athletes walking through the cafe after a warm-up and it is a different creature. There are no kisses and smiles, no high-fives to kids nor admiring whispers. Their faces have changed into something distant, as though their eyes are now back in their heads listening to a music written long ago, one filled with the repetitive rhythms of battered tennis balls and squeaking feet. Often their headphones are on and their bags are now shoulder slung. The only hugs are their eyes on the horizon. For the next few hours, the Jekyllian transformation will dominate.


And then they’ll return. Back to the humanity. Back to their friends. Back to the reality that one of those aforementioned immortals will likely get the trophy, but also with the knowledge that they competed at that level, that they battled the best and built long-lasting memories with some really great people, that there is a pretty great life going on back in that little cafe. And twenty years from now, above all else, those are the things they’ll remember.

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