Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Familiar Faces, Familiar Places - DC Open Revisited

DC Open Adult Open Championships

William Fitzgerald Tennis Center, Washington DC (Sept 7-9) - USTA Mid-Atlantic Tournament

Just last month in August, the ATP 500 Citi Open was held at the same location in Washington DC. It was known as the Legg Mason tournament for many years and recently switched over.

It was great that we were able to practice on the very same courts as the men and women pros just 4-5 weeks ago were competing and practicing on. The stadium court would have been the perfect place to play the Sunday finals, which surprisingly was not locked.

But seeing it without all the chairs and banners gives it a different, more apocalyptic feeling. Also, I found out that they took the smaller Grandstand and show courts and covered them in a bubble - probably for the winter indoor season.

Citi Open - Practice Courts (same ones used for DC Open in Sept)

New Practice Courts

Since last year, DC had taken a row of rarely-used Har Tru clay courts in the back corner and converted them to new Deco Turf hard courts. A smart move in my opinion. Playing on them was nice as this summer, while covering the Citi Open, most of the pros practiced or played at least once on the same surface.

So my first match was on Court 1 - the same one that Pablo Andujar (#33 in the world) had practiced on. Later, in the Semi's I was on the Court 3 where Xavier Malisse had been playing around just a month prior.

Granted that the USTA tournament was for amateurs, it included some high levels including the Men's Open players with the 1st and 2nd seeds facing off in the Sunday Final.

Familiar Faces in the DC Tournament Scene

Ms. Salie

As always, Ms. Salie was the referee and has been there for many, many DC tournaments. I've seen her at the Howard University (Banneker), Turkey Thicket and several other courts through the years. Always smiling but also knowing when to lay down the law. She will come by, put up the singles sticks and then wish you a good match. You can trust her calls and rely on her to be there when there's a problem.

Mr. Harris

My favorite part of these annual summer USTA tournaments are the pleasant people who include fellow players at various levels and NTRPs. This year I was lucky enough to run into my role model, in the 50's and over division, Mr. Harris.

This guy is the nicest tennis player and person you'll ever meet on or off the court at these USTA tournaments. Also, he knows how to win with what he's got; an improv man with jazz talents, he reins in the hardest hitters and more determined foes. He is also a perennial - practically ever tournament I have enter in the past 2 years, he is there. Right as rain.

Last month, he was even voted by his peers for the Sportsmanship Award at the Bruce Francis Memorial Tournament.

Babolat Tennis Bag

During the last tournament, I saw that he was carrying around a Babolat Team bag along with another blue duffle bag. It just so turned out that I had just received an extra one - this one a 6-pack, just slightly bigger Babolat Team bag that I was planning to use for my upcoming bag review and then simply give away to another one of my many Tennis-Bargain Fans. But then I thought to myself - here's a man, with all his wins and matches, deserves a spare tennis bag.

In the past, I've thought of these gifts as "spoils of war" - which is what I call my treasure chest of strings, grips, bags, clothes, even custom shoes that go to victors of tennis - dripping in sponsorship and marketing juice, they dress you up nice and pretty to make them look good and their stuff sell like hotcakes.

But here was a man sporting none of that. Sunscreen stained and battle-tattered polos, still fighting and coming up with win among the best in the arena. Sure he will still win and lose like everyone else, but his mindset is what is incredible. He doesn't need to boast himself (doesn't even fist-pump or say com'mon), nor put anyone else down to succeed. He's always positive and gives you a bear hug at the end, win or lose.

"Greatful Dead Bob"

So I approached him to offer a new Babolat Bag to him. And being Mr. Harris, he insists that it be donated to another guy - someone who if you just met, you might say looks like he came "straight out of a Grateful Dead concert" because of his tie-dye shirts and straw brimmed hat :) whom I'll call "Bob".

Well Bob had just lost his first round match and was looking a little bit down. I had seen him in a previous tournament but thought nothing much - he was a big, round fella riding who had rode his bike (probably from the metro). I looked at the black backpack he had been hauling his stuff in - it was beat up pretty badly and had to be tied close with some extra string.

Mr. Harris always knew who needed help and his selflessness is never lost on him. I found out later that Bob sometimes went around collecting used tennis using his bike helmet as a bucket sometimes...probably to give them to some kids later on or use as practice balls? Bob was very grateful for the unexpected gift. And I had a found a good home for the bag. Worse players like me, have owned much newer equipment and been blessed with much nicer tennis clothes. It was fitting that a good heart and strong player be rewarded for once.

Worthy Prizes for Worthwhile People

All the trophies, medals and ribbons you collect as Champion are just pieces of metal and fabric in the end...they will only go so far toward making you happy and remembered off the tennis court.

In the end, you have to give back. To your own charities. In your own way. Don't let others tell you or sway you with constant begging or wallowing or complaining. You can't always find them advertised on a big billboard - sometimes it's just one man, sometimes it's just one bag.

Deserving folks are out there in the real world - just have to find them, or ask Mr. Harris to point them out.

You'll feel a sense of inner contentment / "cosmic balance" and satisfaction that somehow the big titles and ranking points just do not provide.

Giving Back: feels impossible when you have little or nothing to give. Yet feels natural when you see these people have everything to gain.

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