Washington DC Welcomes Rafael Nadal to my hometown in 2021

 A historic visit by Rafael Nadal to our Nation's Capital and my hometown of Washington DC.


The perfect storm formed this Summer for Rafael Nadal to be here. First, he was forced to skip Wimbledon and the Olympics due to an injury for almost 3 weeks. Secondly, he also opted for an early start on the hard courts this year. Lastly, the USA has a great vaccination rate compared to Europe which allows for safely hosting 100% of tennis fans.

This was his first time playing at this ATP 500 event. Most years he will skip straight to the Masters 1000 in Canada. He follows in the footsteps of his idol Andre Agassi who has also been a champion here before. Another former #1, Andy Murray has also played here multiple times before in the past.

Chatting with Rafa in Spain

April 2019. I was sitting on the 1st row behind the center baseline at the Barcelona 500 during his brilliant match point against Struff and the entire stadium errupts like a soccer match. The two kids next to me scream so loud, I thought this must be what it's like at a rock concert.

After the match, there were so many people leaving! I had to actually exit the tournament gates and come in the back way.

I re-enter from the back entrance by myself and start heading back down to the press room with my camera. I see none other than Rafael himself walking up toward me!

At first, I'm sure he'll turn left and go down to the locker rooms. Nope, he comes straight up the narrow walkway and looks right at me.

My shaky cell phone video captured my moment of sheer surprize.

I said simply: "Congraduations on the victory. I will come by your academy next week in Mallorca". He replies: "That's good! I will see you then."

Visiting Mallorca to train at his Tennis Academy

I had no idea if he was kidding. But I would fly Air Europa a few days later to Mallorca. On my 2nd day there I found out he was true to his word to go practice and see Uncle Toni.

It was always a dream of mine on my long tennis bucket list for a chance to visit him in his hometown of Manacor of Mallorca at the Rafael Nadal Academy.

What he did not tell me was that Naomi Osaka was also going to be training there that week too - world #1 and US Open champion Naomi Osaka. All 3 of us were in the fitness center at the same time on the 3rd or 4th day. I stayed on a treadmill performing my footwork drills from Sanchez Casal as long as I could. I decided to wait until he finally finished his workout to try to say a couple words.

In the hallway back to the academy's locker room, I caught up to him and mentioned that I had a chance to see the beaches of Mallorca the day before. He commented that when the weather is nice here in Mallorca, they are beautiful and some of his favorite. Of course he also has a super yahts :)

As he hurried away, I noted that I'm a tennis coach originally from Washington DC and would be great to have him play at Citi Open 500 one day.

Since then I would help bridge some tennis students exchanges. Kids and Adults got the chance to visit Spain and visit the Academy. In 2021, the Rafa Nadal Academy expanded summer camps to Boston, Miami, and Philadephia.

After the covid year of 2020 - Rafa again delivered me another great surprize once again.

Playing at Rock Creek Park Tennis Stadium

This is the same location where I had won the DC Adult Open Tennis Tournament at both the USTA 4.0 and 4.5 singles divisions. I had a chance to play on stadium court on my final day. The P1-P5 practice courts on the side were where I played many competitive QF and SF matches. The tennis balls were usually ATP Pro Penns.

The Grandstand and Show Court 2 areas for the tournament are where I drove on weekend evenings in the winter to play under a tennis bubble covered courts on my WTT rec leagues. Our team went undefeated that year. I remember I didn't lose a single set the entire season in men's singles.


 
To have him play in DC's Citi Open completes an amazing chapter for me.
In some ways, it brings full circle my journey with Rafael Nadal.


European summer travel experience in June 2021

The Tennis Trip to Germany in 2021 was too soon

As a tennis journalist, I was able to enter Europe in June 2021 before the official tourist restrictions were lifted for vaccinated Americans. This article offers a glimpse of reality for American travelers and foreign tennis fans considering a European vacation this summer.

Grass Court Tennis
This seemed like an exciting opportunity to cover a couple important grass tournaments at the WTA Berlin and ATP Halle locations in Germany.

Held in mid-June, these were the key warm-up events for Wimbledon. Plus, I was eager and excited to finally be going to Europe for the first time since COVID-19 became our new reality.

Flying and Testing
Before my trip began, I was pleased to secure a round trip ticket for $500 USD on TAP Portugal from Washington DC to Lisbon and then Berlin and back.

Prior to flying, I used Same Day Health covid-19 testing to present a negative PCR test and associate it with my passport # in order to fly into Portugal. Even being fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine and having my CDC health card was insufficient for entry.

Getting PCR Tests in Europe
Once I arrived in Germany, daily COVID test documents were officially required by all hotels each night of my stay. In Berlin, I walked 20 minutes to Mitte (Center of the city) to get my test first thing in the morning. Test results for 75 Euros were guaranteed to come within 24 hours, though the results came back near the very tail end of that limit. However, a faster test would have doubled my testing cost.

In retrospect, a simple "rapid antigen" test at the airport for 40 Euros would have been the better option, but there was a lot of competing and conflicting information out there. Different countries and locations accept different types of tests for entry, increasing the complexity. TPG's frequent flying staffers had their own field reports that echoed similar confusion at European airports. It is definitely a big business for test companies that issue time-sensitive test results to desperate travelers.

The true cost I'd estimate was about $200-$300 more when you add in all the required PCR tests before and after the trip. It can be a bit cheaper if you plan can afford to wait at least 48 hours for the test results sent digitally.

Grass Tennis - Finally!
Once I cleared the testing hurdle, I was able to attend the grass-court tournaments in Berlin and Halle.

Roger Federer made his appearance at the tournament he had won 10 times in Halle. The excitement of his appearance was enough to fuel the vast majority of excitement over the possibility that he might win and have a strong chance to win Wimbledon. The buzz was a hope to catch a glimmer of his past brilliance on his favorite surface.

Halle, Germany - round 1 victory for Federer

At his second-round match, he squeezed out his first set against Felix Auger Aliassime (FAA). However, at that point, the magic ran out and all that collective fan optimism came crashing to an end when he lost in 3 sets. To make matters worse, most of the top seeds in the women's tournament had also fell victim to upsets by the quarterfinals. Berlin was plagued by even hotter and sunnier temperatures, making each afternoon in the full sun risky even for the players involved.

For the limited press and media present, masks were required. I must say it was not ideal to have to try to work while wearing one, particularly while carrying heavy camera gear and being exposed to the elements. The temperature at the tournament peaked at over 90F every day. If it was not bad enough to fog up your view, the obstructions certainly did not cater to getting good photographs.

Promoting Entertainment while Enforcing Safety Procedures
I did encounter a few distant fans at the two events that dotted the stands, but the attendance was extremely limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Additionally, those fans who were present seemed to find little enjoyment sitting isolated and so far back in the scorching summer sun. It really was a test of self-punishment. What I observed made me question what the point was of having fans at all.

The real challenge to returning to Normal for sporting events is the sense of safety and security for fans. If fans cannot cheer and celebrate with their closest loved ones in the stands - I would highly recommend that they enjoy it at home instead. Without a blanket policy for the event and city, most of the fans will not be comfortable attending. This lack of comfort translates directly into the food vending, merchandise sales, and tourism that surrounds a tennis event ecosystem.

"Even if you gave me a free round trip ticket to go back to Europe this summer, I would probably decline it to avoid all the headaches."

This young fan personifies my mood as a masked tennis attendee.


The lack of a real audience and fan electricity in the viewing experience sharply contrasted that of attending previous historic grass events like the Tennis Hall of Fame grass tournament in Rhode Island, where I joined Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick for their retirement ceremony.

The shining moment was seeing the loyal fans and crowds that greeted Roddick, the last American male to win a tennis Grand Slam, on that special day. Had it been a small gathering without John Legend and Andy's lifelong friends in attendance, it might have felt just as anticlimactic.
 
Strict City Protocols Indoors vs Super Lax Adherence Outdoors
Beyond tennis, one of the great things about traveling to tournaments in Europe is the chance to visit the cultural landmarks and great museums located throughout the continent. Sadly though, the famous museums on museum island in Berlin were either closed or had prohibitively strict policies to discourage visitors.

In general, most local, indoor establishments required full documentation (PCR test within 24 hours or vaccination proof) to gain entry plus a KN-95 mask (FFP2 or better) for entry. Even the UNIQLO store would not let me enter without signing a waiver with my name, address, plus personal information.


Steps outside these indoor facilities, you could see thongs of Berlin citizens - mostly young adults were wearing no face coverings at all. I often received stares when walking outside with a mask around my neck - most I observed did not have one on except when mandated.

Meanwhile, there is nothing like getting probed up the nose and throat daily with a super Q-tip for a minimum of 10 seconds. That really makes one reconsider whether is it really worth staying another day or venturing into another European country.

Tennis Vacation: Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters 1000 in Monaco

Memories of Monaco

Each April, I would set my alarm to wake up early on Sunday when it was time to watch Rafael Nadal. He would play whoever else was the other finalist.  I remember sitting at home and tuning into Tennis Channel, glued to seeing clay court genius in full glory. I was so used to hearing the Spanish National Anthem played every Sunday in April.

The Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters 1000 was always the leadoff tournament on the road to Roland Garros - the unofficial start of Spring Tennis in Europe.

Monte-Carlo Country Club (MCCC)

The grandeur of the principality in Monaco.
The royalty in attendance.
The elegance of the ocean coast.

The beauty of the clay courts.
Residence to many tennis stars.
Wealthy elites sitting on "Billionaire row" at the M.C.C.C.



The Monte-Carlo Poster

Back in 2017, on a trip to Vietnam with my parents, I saw the Monte Carlo poster below.

It was inside a passport office in Manhattan. I was delayed 24 hours in NYC after I lost my passport at JFK. Retracing my steps in every terminal and shuttle for hours, I had only my driver's license and was in another state. I consulted my options and had to sleep there, 2nd time at a NY airport overnight. Then in the morning, took the first train to Manhattan to apply for a new one when the office opened.

There it was, the Monte-Carlo poster (pictured below) hanging on the wall at a passport office in NYC. Fortunately, a half-day later I was able to get back to JFK and continue that SE Asia trek. But I knew it was a sign from the tennis gods I had to go pay my respects one day to this small strip of land by the sea.

The poster that hung in my bedroom - inspiring me to visit one day!

In 2018, I arrived in Monte-Carlo via Zurich - during the Snowman Spring Festival - Sächsilüüte.

The recommendation was to fly into Nice, France, get an AirBnB near the train station, and then take the daily train ride a few stops to the tournament location.

But then I thought: wouldn't it be nice to stay somewhere you could see the tournament from one of those balconies they film above the tournament even for just a couple nights? For memories of a lifetime, it was worth a shot and a worthwhile business investment.

Above is a satellite view with my AirBnB reservation highlighted in the purple box. Since it was my first and possibly last chance to go, I had to check if this opportunity was possible. The daily lodging prices in the area during the tennis tournament were usually around $400-$1000+/night.

I searched for accommodations near the tournament and noticed there was one duplex with an amazing balcony that overlooked the clay courts! Confirming on Google Maps and various angles, I made sure.

As a fellow AirBnB host, I chatted with Jessica, the vacation homeowner from Milan. Offering some freelance photography and marketing skills, I was able to secure a very sweet deal at her vacation home for a couple of nights it would be vacant. It was a dream location and the ideal private spot for any tennis super fan.

The views as you can see are breathtaking. I could hear and see the tennis action from the balcony. Each morning, I would wake up before sunset to capture some time-lapse videos, watching the cruise ships sail into port and drop off passengers at the famous Casino.


AirBnB in Monaco - Welcome up to the roof deck



Walking down the hill to the Monte Carlo Country Club


Stopping along the way for food at breakfast and lunch

Practice Court view from the clay ground level


Court de Princes - side stadium court

Monte-Carlo Tennis Ball from the pro practice session


Rafael Nadal - King of Clay

Canadian Teachers - #1 Rafa super fan on the right

Rafa's sister (?) at the Rafa Nadal Academy booth

Rafael Nadal Academy Booth

I spoke to a very pretty blonde girl at the booth. Some remarked she looked like Rafa's sister - I wasn't sure at the time. She suggested that I go check it out in the Autumn after summer break is over and the kids are back in school. 

She noted it is usually less crowded if I wanted to write a review or recommend tennis students to go visit. I ended up visiting the Academy after the Barcelona tournament the following year.

My promo code "JCTENNIS" gives you 10% OFF at the Mallorca HQ.
In 2021, they announced new Rafa summer camps coming to the USA this June and July 2021 in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Miami. My "JCTENNIS" discount code works for Miami on July 12-17.


Exploring Monaco








Go here to get the official Monaco Seal stamp on your Passport!

French Riviera - Nice, Antibe, Cannes 

Nice, France is a beautiful seaside town a hand full of train stops away. For a few hours, I signed up for a really fun Segway tour and enjoyed it very much with a group of young students. A great way to get up and down the steep hills and explore a lot of ground in a few hours.



Red, white, and blue lighted dancing fountains

A very scenic and laid-back coastal town - Nice offers many shops, museums, and parks. A great way to spend any Spring afternoon or catch the sunset by the ocean.

At night, there are plenty of delicious French restaurants with street performers playing music outdoors.

With an extra few days in Frace, I took day trips to nearby Antibes and other port cities on the French Riviera. If you're shopping for beautiful yachts on the water, there are always plenty to see everywhere. 

I caught this golden sunrise photo after arriving at Antibes and surveying the old castle walls that surround the old city.


On the last day of my trip, I overheard that there would be a Red Bull air race taking place in Cannes. Normally this is where the red-carpet events are held for the Cannes Film Festival. That year Solo was shown early at the festival.

The red bull air race was going to be the first-ever in France, so after dropping off my bags at the airport, I decided to go attend the event for a few hours. Why not? When in France!

Transportation from the airport and back was a bit of a mess but I am really glad I took a chance and got to go check it out for the day. All event drinks and merchandise had cashless payments. When walking down the beach, you could see large crowds gather to see the fast planes race around the pylons with their smoke trails.

Cannes - Red Bull - Air Race



Overall, an excellent tennis trip week plus extra tourist time on the Cote d'Azur!


See the Media Photos for Monte Carlo Tennis

Here's another tennis (Federer) fan's perspective of MCCC @ perfect-tennis.

In 2017, I was in Rome at the Italian Open for that clay-court season.

Stanford Tennis Memories

December 2019: my last pre-covid visit to the Stanford Campus


June 2006: 2 days of tennis training with Coach Gould

To Jacky - Best Wishes, Dick Gould (6/18/06)

Team USA Calendar - March 2021
The start of my Stanford GSB executive postgrad 

Stanford's Cardinal Red
The color of "JC" on all my avatar logos 

In the summer of 2006, I had the great privilege to play tennis at Stanford University.
Held at the site of the WTA Bank of the West Classic - the Nike Boot Camp weekend.

Coach Dick Gould helped me refine the kick serve that has paid dividends 100x over.