The Rafael Nadal Orchestra

Rafael Nadal at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell

St. George's Day 2019.

The day I finally got to step on the same clay as his Majesty - King Rafa!

On this cloudy Catalonia morning, I spotted Carlos Moya on the opposite bench with Diego Schwartzman.

I had no doubt that Nadal would not be too far behind.

I raced up from the media center to get a confirmation from the guards that he had indeed entered the premises.

Although morning drizzle had delayed the start of the practice, he would not be denied a chance to stir the clay on his day off.

We file into the narrow passage, less than a dozen journalists with the special passes were allowed entry to squeeze into the narrow one-meter-wide alleyway.

In those short moments of his practice today, I felt one of the most profound and proud moments in my whole tennis life.

I am not sure if any other player in history was able to contort each high-speed incoming ball like him and bends it to his will.

Rafa even seems to enjoy the joy of sweeping his own clay court while smiling.

His ability to then transform the trajectory, speed, shape, and form so perfectly is humbling.

All the years you train to hit a tennis ball is to be able to do *this* right there in front of you.
Some of us watching just smiled knowingly at each other - grateful to be present then and there for this standing-room-only magic show we were all about to witness.


He strikes the ball on his forehand with such a recoiling force and sound that is felt echoing inside your chest before it is heard with your ears.

I have seen him many times on TV, but witnessing the volume of his shots in real life is the difference between playing a song on the radio and going to a live rock concert.

His unmistakable ball-punching strikes will rattle around inside your inner core. The sensation is otherworldly and sometimes scary being in such close quarters with fast projectiles popping across the air.
The experience is enhanced and amplified 3 times over on this small ungated side court that is bookended by one very high concrete wall.

Even the Sun itself is forced out to peek through the last grey cloud to catch a glimpse of this surreal force of humanity at work. What started out as a dreary overcast morning,

Nadal's soul or energy seems to will the Heavens to part on this St. George's Day in Barcelona.

Crowds begin to stir on the other side as his signature grunt bellows out from this side court increasing in volume with each warm-up groundstroke.

In full beast mode, El Toro sets out to free every grain of clay from each fuzzy ball.

He purposefully cleans with every brush stroke of the Babolat racket.

Effortless in his delivery, the frame and ball become fused onto his strings for a split second - then it is gone.

Puffs of micro orange clouds bloom and evaporate on contact.

This crushing pressure exposes every seam, tests each stitch of the ball.

You see it. You feel it. Then you hear it.
WHOOP-Ahhhh! WHOOP-Ahhhh! WHOOOP-Ahhhhh!

With each heavy forehand he fires, we hear a full percussion band:
The strumming chords of main strings cutting through green felt, the sphere
compressing and decompressing air as it is turned into an egg-shaped pancake, and the sprinkled splash of tiny sand granules watering the silky dirt lawn.
All music is accompanied by his world-famous overtones from that deep Rafa grunt.
You just have to close your eyes.
Tune into this tennis stereo station.
Remember the years of his matches and victories.

Then for a few moments, you are literally there by yourself with the greatest clay master who ever lived. It has been a lucid dream that I still cannot believe I witnessed if not for the selfies and kernels of red clay still lodged in the soles of my shoe.

His jazz music is written in the red sand,
Played by this one-man band,
Serenading us all with his favorite tunes.

Bravo!! Encore!! Vamos Rafa!!

Honor and Final Farewells to the Tennis Warrior, David Ferrer

David Ferrer will be honored during his farewell tour "victory lap" at the Barcelona Open Final! On Wednesday, he upset the 15th seed Pouille in straight sets, setting up an all Spaniard match with Rafael Nadal (some of the best clay court points ever played by these two warriors).

David Ferrer victory over Pouille at Barcelona 500

On his goodbye tour to the tennis world...

David Ferrer: A Smaller man with a Bigger Heart.
"Un hombre más pequeño con un corazón más grande"
I was able to catch up with him during his practice at his final US Open at Flushing Meadows, NY. This was a warrior whose battlefield was on the tennis court.

His soul and heart are bigger than anyone else out there. Some of the most thrilling clay court matches played against Nadal back in 2011.

Wearing his Lotto Shoes and white bandanna, he was always as motivated in training as in competition.

A man I watched fighting for his life on the tour and winning matches against much harder hitters and bigger, stronger opponents - he was the underdog you wanted to cheer for.

Sweat flying everywhere and shoes squeaking on every pivot and short angle drive. Full of energy and vigor, he was a beast even on the practice courts.

He put 100% of his energy and every ounce of his 5'9 frame into everything he did.
His compatriots and competitors all respected him and admired his Spirit.

At the end of your career, this is perhaps the most rewarding memory - the Praise and Respect from your peers who come out to salute you from the Sport and Career he loved and loved him equally on Tour.

His footwork, his tireless ground game, his tenacity to play every point like his last...this fire reminds me of the top form Nadal in the late 2000's era. Ferrer never slowed down or compromised his style; even in his 30's, he always ran down everything and hit with tons of topspin on almost everything.

Ferrer has a iTusa tennis academy camp in Spain (looks like a great summer camp for kids) and also one satellite branch out in Glendale, Arizona.

Knowing the feeling being the smaller grinder on court, I employed a very similar style of the Spanish System with angled and on-the-rise offense. It got me to at the top of my game as Mid-Atlantic #1 singles playing USTA starting as a 3.0 player a few years prior. Pity I never had a chance to attend his iTUSA academy but I'm sure it must be a very exhausting program.

This year, it is my goal to wish him his final goodbye as we salute this great tennis warrior one last time. It will be a very long time before we see another like David on the tour.

2019 Miami Open win over Sacha Zverev

We return to the Spanish clay one last at Barcelona and Madrid Opens to see David Ferrer.

In July there will be the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona but there are smaller Running of the Bull events in Madrid as well in the summer.

Bullfighting culture is strong in Madrid. I visited this great capital city and the historic bull ring in the city center a decade ago. Photos from the trip:

The Road to Rafa - Part 2 (Spain: Madrid)

10 years later...we revisit the trip to Madrid and Spain

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the places and moments that take our breath away."Anonymous

(Read Part 1: European Tennis Dream - a tennis tour story)

Madrid ReceiptsMadrid
On the first leg of my tour, I wanted to start by exploring Nadal's true natural element...his raison d'etre...the Spain that he loves and the element of ClayThis is what made him famous for the title "the King of Clay".

There are only nine Master Series 1000 Tournaments each year. They are 
second only in size and scope only to the four majors. Of these 9 Master tournaments, only 3 of them are on ClayIt just so happened that one was scheduled to be held in Madrid, Spain just the following week. The perfect storm...

In 2016, I was granted my Media Credential to cover the Italian Open in Rome (the Eternal City). Witnessed Roger, Rafa, and Djokovic plus Stan Wawrinka with his plaid shorts a few months before he won the French Open.
In 2018, I finally completed the ATP clay tour trifecta at the Monte Carlo Masters. With an amazing friend's help, I awoke each morning overlooking the French Rivera and the legendary Monaco courts.

Serendipity - in Madrid
Plaza de toros (largest in Spain) JC at Bull ring graffiti and windows JC at palacio real Fountain Siloh
It was summer, the clay season was in full stride, Rafa was dominating the European clay court season (Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome). This was going to be perfect, I told myself. This is the year I would tour Europe.
I quickly arranged to buy tickets for the tournament as I knew I would be there just in time for the weekend finals.  When you scramble with that first inspired idea, it grabs a hold of you and reels you in.  I think half the fun of a great adventure is planning it all out and having points were you can deviate and seek alternative options in your travel.

Tours are the most confining way of travel - I rather plan my own itinerary. I like to roam around and walk, see the least trodden paths for myself...

The Madrid Open

Redesigned from what was originally an indoor court winter tournament to an indoor clay court event with the first-ever retractable roof of its kind.  Called the "Caja Majic" or Magic Box - it is a wonder of engineering that glows and the players' safety cave should it ever rain. The views are amazing and you get a real feel of the crowd's energy when inside.

Madrid Open Entrance Madrid Open Final Awards 2009 madrid ball girls loreal JC at Mardid Open Yellow and Red

One problem: the tournament's website was completely written in Spanish!  Luckily, I found tickets on sale at Viagogo that go on sale, sometimes below box office prices. I even was able to secure the last seat available along the baseline for the Nadal vs Federer FinalsThe women's final is also included in the event ticket, between Safina and Wozniacki.

Just remember to notify your bank or credit card that you will be traveling abroad to these countries first, because the online ticket systems may block your purchase.

The other courts are also well lined up for easy spectator access. Lots of fans dot the scene, and even the Spanish Prince showed up to cheer on Rafa that day.

The electricity and energy in the air had the feeling of a world cup or European soccer (aka football) match, with the rows dotted with red seats and yellow hats.

 The chants of "Vamos Rafa!" and "Viva El Toro!" (Nadal's nickname) could be heard all around and outside the stadium.

Clay court tennis in Europe has a very different feel than the hard courts of North America. If you are a true tennis fan, I highly recommend seeing one live and combining a mini-vacation with it so you can truly appreciate the Art, Architecture, and History of this capital*

Madrid Parks and Sights

Bullring - wide view
Prado courtyard with music and nice weatherLake 3The Bull-fighting in Madrid carries on a tradition that has been passed down for hundreds of years. You can find daily tours of this Plaza del Toro epic arena (the 2nd largest in the entire World) and is definitely worth it to see the magnificent horses and bulls there. You can even try on a matador costume and pose with the other young tourists. to the Picasso Museum nestled in the Gothic quarters of Barcelona, there are many small streets and alleys to admire the architecture. If you get hungry, it is easy to grab small tapas or enjoy paella (seafood with rice) at a local restaurant; I was eager to experience Nadal's homeland of Spain both as a traveler and as a tennis fan.

This is a wonderful capital city with a lot of beautiful parks full of young adults enjoying the summer outdoors. Outside the famous Prado Museum (Museo del Prado) are artisans and musicians displaying their crafts outside while crowds of tourists and young college students lounged on the grassy courtyard or under the trees. The weather was absolutely perfect for early summer. I found Spain to be the most friendly towards young travelers for the 20s and 30s tourist crowd among all of the Western European countries during my tour.

Inside there are works of art that date back for many centuries. I found Spain to be an amazing country, full of vibrant culture and life. The people are very friendly, jovial and welcoming to Americans. More Photos below...

BNP Paribas Open @ Indian Wells, CA - "5th Slam"...

Indian Wells - Desert Tennis Oasis
Updated Info for 2019:

So if flying half-way around the world to watch the Aussie Open in January wasn't enough..

I have decided to check out the Indian Wells BNP Paribas tournament again for the 3rd time. It will be the most times at any Masters 100 event. We will revisit in 2019 for a quick preview to our fans to see what has improved and any changes you should know about before heading here!

There are still some tickets left for the 1st and 2nd week of Indian Wells tennis tickets onlineI always like to make sure they are Ticketmaster verified and guaranteed before buying. 

Brad Gilbert offers a few jokes and
predictions at Corona's "Beer with Brad"

Tennis Pros' Annual Reunion

I'm glad I got to do some photographs and videos of the tournament (more below)

Also while meeting some terrific fans and tennis stars up close and personal =)

Top Players' Tournament

Mayleen Reamy
from Tennis Channel
The Top 49 out of 50 showed up in 2013! You get to walk right up to the players practicing.

At matches, you get to watch from close seats that you would otherwise pay over a thousand dollars to see at the US Open*

Tennis Warehouse & Freebie Swag

  • TennisWarehouse offered some play-testing new rackets on their demo court.
  • Emirates Airlines had some cool looking seat cushions at the giveaway.
  • The Thai Tourism Tent offered some free 15 min back rubs *very nice after a long day of tennis*

West Coast Road Trip

I had unused frequent flyer miles I needed to burn before they I flew to San Diego and drove 2 hours over the very scenic, snow-feathered Rt. 74 (Pines to Palms Hwy) to get there. The Big Horn winding roads area looks like something straight out of a racing video game.

Got to stay at a great AirBnB place that included 2 private tennis courts and pool plus hot tub. It was a very short ride to downtown, 15 mins to the Tennis Stadium, and some hiking trails near Joshua Tree too.

The host, Brendan was awesome with a lot of Indian Wells knowledge and there were a couple other tennis fans staying in the other room too, so it was definitely a great place to stay (much better value and cozier than a hotel room).

Indian Wells Media: Flickr PicturesYouTube Highlight Videos

Indian Wells Tennis Garden
Known as the "5th Slam" (article by Rob Perez) so we wanted to make sure our "Grand Fan Slam" was truly complete and coverage now includes (2 out of 9) Masters Series ATP 1000 Events (my Madrid / Spain Trip and the Nadal vs Federer 2009 Finals Pictures)

It contains the 2nd largest tennis-specific stadium in the world - 2nd only to the mammoth Arthur Ashe Stadium (where you get a great view of the NYC skyline) and feel like you could actually get a nose-bleed if you climbed all the way up to row ZZ!

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden has some of the best practice court viewing for tennis players up close. I would say it is probably the closest you will ever be able to get down a near court level view of the players just 10-15 feet away.

General Parking was one thing that could definitely be improved with the 2000+ spots at the new grass lot as the way it was this year.
If you got there 1-2 hours after opening, it felt like Rush Hour traffic and getting in line of cattle to go all the way around to a free parking spot.

How to Tournament Tennis Play at Indian Wells, CA?

International Team Tennis Championships
(Invitational Tournament @ Monterey Country Club)

Playing Tennis in the Desert -
Monterey Country Club 

Dan and Karl run an annual Tennis Tournament during the Indian Wells pro tournament in early-mid March every year. Dan's friend Jo from Michigan actually was nice enough to invite me to play as a sub on his team.

It was a beautiful location, and Dan does an awesome job throwing the party's dinner party (at his private pad with his family) and doing the Herculean task of managing all the logistics on the 15 court facility. Great event, highly recommended!

Tickets Giveaway to Fans

We were able to giveaway to a couple lucky fans of some freebies too!

Just like at the Aussie Open and US Open, we offer our loyal supporters a way to enjoy great tennis seats, even when the box office is officially sold out =)

Hint: We use TennisNow (TicketMaster Verified) Tickets for Tickets re-sell from other fans. They have tickets for most tennis events:

Canadian Fans - watching Nadal practice
USTA and WTT Leagues
Another great way to play at the Tennis Garden is to compete in the USTA Nationals Tri-Level competition or the WTT (World Team Tennis) Rec League which gets to actually play on the same (practice) courts that the pros used during the tournament.

The new Stadium will a 19,000 sq ft structure with 8,000 seats (roughly half the number of the main stadium). Right now the best general admissions seats are probably on Stadium 2 and 3 for the marquee matches.

However, with record-breaking attendance this year - it was especially hard to navigate around the large crowds on the middle weekend when both Saturday and Sunday morning sessions were completely sold out.

Indian Wells vs Miami Open Tennis Tournament? March Masters Tennis - California vs Florida?

Indian Wells, CA or Miami, FL

The First two ATP Masters 1000 Events of the USA occur just a couple weeks apart. Although these are both offer top tier point for the top tennis pros on the men and women's tour, they are also very polar in many ways. Nearly all of the Top 50 players in the world will attend both events.

West Coast vs East Coast

I have friends on both sides of the fence, some prefer one over the other. If you live on the West Coast of the US and a major tennis fan, then Indian Wells is an ideal spot to check out. If you are on the East Coast and especially in Florida, then the Miami Open is great to experience.

Quick Comparison of the two March Masters:

BNP Paribas Open

"5th Grand Slam"
My Trip & Team Tourney Review
HD Pictures | Discount Tickets

  • Excellent Practice Court Views (at eye level)
  • Premium Facilities and Show Court Stadiums
  • Low Humidity, Dry Heat
  • Outdoors: Hiking, Golf, Tennis
  • West Coast

  • Expensive Location! Avg Hotels @ ~$200-$350/nt
  • 2 Hours Drive from the nearest major airport (San Diego or LA) not counting PSP
  • Less Nightlife

    Indian Wells is a bit more of the rich, active retiree destination - even most of the volunteers are over 55. Quite a different energy level than the younger Spring Break crowd in Miami.

    On the other hand, if you like a more laid back atmosphere with more outdoor scenery, then Southern California is perfect. Joshua Tree and Coachella are both relatively close by. The Living Desert is a small zoo

Miami Open

"South American Slam"
Trip Review and Tips | HD Pictures | Tickets

  • Less crowded overall
  • Courts are all close to each other
  • Cheaper Ticket Packages Available
  • Miami Beach Town
  • East Coast

  • VERY Humid with chances of heavy, quick thunderstorms (rain delays multiple times in 2019)
  • Parking is very limited or expensive / shuttles far away at the tournament (average 15-20 mins)
  • Note: in 2019 they will move to the new Hard Rock stadium where the Dolphins play* It is a much larger stadium so it is not as easy to see the players from the top deck at either location now.

There is more of a Latin / South American crowd at the tournament and around Miami. The fans are generally younger than at Indian Wells. The evening atmosphere is the "seen and be seen" South Beach fare. Usually, there are some large music/techno festivals held during this time of the year.

2019 Overview and Summary

Fans Comfort: IW, much more enjoyable and cooler during the day
Overall Trip Cost: MIA, has slightly cheaper options available on the whole

Main Stadium Quality: IW (Miami is too big now, but open and central) / IW has better box seats
Secondary Show Courts: MIA (*more reserved stadiums at IW mean more ticket costs)
Practice Court Views: IW (Miami has lots of mesh fences between fans and players)

Food at Tournament: MIA (lots of cuisine choices, whereas IW has more shops/food off-site plus a few new fancy restaurants on the grounds)
Food outside Tournament: IW (great sushi and seafood; I ran into some pros in 2019)

Souvenirs: MIA - large store with merchandise in the shade with A/C;
Fan Zone Area: Tied; Jumbotron area at MIA more lively, Better lounge chairs at IW
Swag / Freebies: MIA, more fun gifts and booths - lots of things to sample;

IW has a few Instagram locations to take selfies. Tennis-Warehouse free racket demo court but the lines are at least 15-30 mins long for every small group of 4-8*

Daytime activities: IW (if you like hiking, golf, wildlife)
Nightlife activities: MIA (parties, clubs, beaches)

Overall Winner - Indian Wells

Indian Wells: A
Miami: B+

If you've been to one or both of these tournaments, please leave a comment below!