Thursday, May 10, 2018

Italian Open in Rome: why it is the best Masters event to attend

Back in 2013 I remember sitting in the unfurnished attic at one of my
mixed doubles tennis partner's home. We watched a delayed replay of the clay court event on Tennis Channel.

The footage was grainy but I knew there was something magical about the Foro Italico. Although I had experienced the French Open in 2009, the smaller Masters Series events had a more appealing allure lately.

With giant white marble statues surrounding the outdoor garden of a tennis stadium, it was spectacular.  I remarked that one day I would be there. Rome, Italy - the eternal city would be on my tennis bucket list.

Fast forward to Spring 2016...

I decide to apply for a very last minute request for a media pass. The chances of getting into a Masters 1000 ATP/WTA combined event are slim but since I had been putting it off so many years, I would at least try.

But after answering a few questions in Italian with the help of Google Translate, I explained my situation and presented my portfolio of work covering many other tournaments as both a reporter and a fan.

A few days later, I received an email back in Italian. Usually, a short letter is a bad sign (just like college acceptance letters) but this time I was pleasantly surprised that I was accepted!

"Siamo lieti di informarla che la Sua richiesta di ACCREDITO PERMANTENTE agli Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2016 è stata approvata."
We are pleased to inform you that your request for "ALL TOURNAMENT" accreditation to Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2016 was approved.

The acceptance letter also included instructions on how to book accommodations for a hotel and transportation.

I had less than 2 weeks notice with that vote of support and a clear 4-5 days to travel on a decent budget, I went for it.

When in Rome...

After a short stopover in Munich, my final stop was Rome at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport. I arrived late at night and immediately took the train to the central station of Termini for a taxi ride to my hotel.

At night, the speedy cab driver raced through the town, giving me a sense of the city's urgent vibrancy with all the scooters and mini compacts zipping through traffic.

It seemed like everyone was always practicing for a Grand Touring race in one's own Citigo, Citroen or Mini.

Italian Fashion extends into the soul of its food, streets and especially cars.

Its hospitality is warm, animated and very personable. I found that knowing a little bit of Italian helped a long way (or Google Translate).

Google Maps along with a few helpful hand gestures by locals usually got me to where I needed to go.

Europe in the Spring
May is the perfect weather for tennis and tourists alike - between 65-75 F most days. There were only a couple hours of rain during my stay, but mostly clear skies.

Media Hotel and the Neighborhood

My hotel looked very historic about 1-2 km from the Foro Italico site of the Italian Open. It was also just a few kilometers from the Vatican.

I recall the tiny old elevator barely fit my suitcase and me inside. Likely remodeled in the last 10-15 years, I could tell the original structure dated many decades long before anyone here was alive. The ages are literally layered upon the city.

In the morning, the bustle of Roman Life slowly and gradually peeps into your window as a reminder of its daily life.

You wake up to construction crews whistling at a construction site, cars with staccato horns urging the mini log jams to move along. Women with young school children crossing the narrow streets. Patrons in small cafe bars ordering their expressos and Ciao'ing each other with a peck on the cheek.

In the morning I lived uphill from the river, so a brisk walk eventually got me there. There were several chic Italian cafes along the way. One was a classic coffee shop offering sandwiches with the crusts perfectly trimmed into fluffy, white triangles.
Unfortunately, at night the opposite was true when walking up the cobblestone hills. The journey back would make for a much more adventurous trek home with vagabones living under the archways of some Roman bridges.

The footpath back was wide but not well lit. Staying next to the river, it was hard to get lost.

There was also a bus option but it took a long time in-between and I definitely did not want to take the wrong one.

4 Reasons to Visit Rome for Tennis

1) The Rome Event features both the Top Men and Women players in the world.

Much more accessible and affordable than any grand slam.

If you only want to see the best matches in 1 week's time, the Masters Series is the place to look. It is much less crowded and you get to the "business end" of the top 50 competition in the 1st and 2nd rounds.

Practically everyone at the tournament plays at a very high caliber, so chances are that anyone you see is big in the tennis world.

2) The Italian Open is held at the Eternal City (Rome)

It is just a few minutes away from the city center - perfect for post-match evening strolls to see the Vatican City or sample any of the wide range of delicious foods and restaurants.

There are lots of amazing sights to see. At night the city is a whole new world. I would highly
recommend an evening Segway tour if you are in a hurry or do not want to walk everywhere.

The beauty of the city really comes out at night. By bus or simply walking, you should spend a few hours to check it out.

3) Rome rivals Madrid and Paris (...for Clay Court Tennis)

The backdrop and cityscape are a lot more natural and open. It is bigger and offers ATP and WTA (Women) players in the same event, unlike Monte-Carlo. Basically the same price for twice the player's field.

Even though the Caja Magica in Madrid offers a roof as insurance from the rain...its metallic look of the campus makes everything feel and sound very tinny. The high altitude and fast court speed in Madrid also does not translate well to Roland Garros.

On the other hand, Rome has a much more similar condition to Paris - making it a true preview of the events only a week away.

You will get a better vacation and culinary experience in Rome than most parts of Europe.

Food, Wine, Culture, and Sport is all here.

There is a mix of many other Ancient Civilizations such as Egyptian, Gaul and Spanish influence the art and architecture.

Thousands of years of history are on display and preserved for the millions of tourists that visit each year.

If you enjoyed movies such as Gladiator, Eat Pray Love, or even Ben Hur - you will enjoy the ambiance of the Collosium.

Media Access and Navigating the Campus

Arriving at the Tennis site on foot, I was directed to a small building a few blocks further. By mid-week, I was lucky as the line was much shorter to pick up my badge. After a short wait, they printed my picture ID pass and put me in as a Media Journalist / Writer.

I entered the Media center space which was on the 2nd floor along the back wing of the main stadium complex.

It was intimidating, to say the least when I first arrived. Everything was in Italian and I did not recognize anyone from my previous Media tents.

However, very quickly after appearing day and night - I quickly knew the lay of the land and the gatekeepers learned to recognize me.

Soon, the staff became more comfortable with my presence there.

Roaming around and discovering all the behind the scene spots was part of the fun.

Really, Really Up-close Practice Court Views

The proximity to the top players, including Federer (over my shoulder) was amazing. If one entered early and knew where to go, you could easily see most of the top 10 players within just a few rows in a day.

Because there are not many top players with Italian Tennis, there is simply less pressure here than in Madrid (Nadal with the Spanish Armada), or in England (Brits pushing Andy Murray in the UK).

I was easily able to see young guns like Thiem, Zverev, and Nishikori on the practice courts almost everywhere.

When there was a big match with Nadal on center, often you would find the eventual French Open Champion Wawrinka practicing on a side court at the same time.

Traveling from one side to the other was not too challenging nor far. It usually took longer simply to queue up to enter a court than to get there from the grounds.

I feel like the Italian culture of food, friends, and family echoes well throughout the people and city. The small group of Italian photographers representing Canon CPS Europe were very generous, professional and showed up every day.

Canon Professional Services (CPS) =
Heavy-Duty Pro Gear with On-Site Support

Specifically, I want to highlight how impressed I was by the Canon CPS representatives at Rome.

The best photographers in the world
In particular, the Photographers were very my favorite bunch and I quickly found some friends there. They were gracious enough to accept me as their own and even included me with them in their photographer section.
Even with just my press pass and a Rebel Ti4 camera at the time, they were very gracious and allowed me to loan out the top of the line 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II lens (valued at over $2000) simply by showing them my passport and credentials.

Each day, I could just check in and check out the lens I needed without having to luge it all the way back to my hotel.

On my very last day, I was even given a 5D Mark III full frame camera to capture some of the best shots in my Rome Portfolio during the match with Nadal and Djokovic.

The photographer groups organized themselves into small teams of 5-8 members. Each group was granted a small armband that allowed access to the Center Court photo pit.

On my final day, I was selected by one of the teams to lead off.

That meant I was first into the pit to cover: 

1) the Players' Entrance, 2) the Pre-match Warm-ups and 3) First 3 games of the 1st set

Seeing Nadal vs Djokovic on clay from this close up was definitely the highlight moment of the trip for me.

Getting down to the pit, I nearly ran into Novak while he was doing his sprints inside the staging area I was so excited!

Later, I found an area behind the baseline where ballboys and photographers could camp out to get ground level baseline shots. The highlight movie above was shot there.

This provided an amazing location to take some highlight videos of some of the matches.

Although access was limited to this area, I felt that it was well designed and offered a vastly different perspective than any other I had seen at any other event prior.

Watching Tennis from the Ground Floor Level  

Nishikori and Thiem - warm up from the back-stage angle

Rome Trip Advice

I highly recommend Google Flights, AirBnB, plus using Uber to get around. Good luck! Please send us a comment or picture if you are able to make it to this amazing event one day.

Tip: Get tennis tickets in advance if you can, or buy them for retail at the box office but the lines can be long. I would recommend Viagogo to get resell tickets internationally.

Just be sure to bring your ID and Passport if you get an e-ticket so they can verify you when you enter.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Tennis Year in Review

So many events and cities explored in the last 18-20 months. I have been slow to keep up the journal of my travels. At year's end, this seemed as good a time as any to recap.

I promise later that I will go back and provide a full review of each venue later. For now, I've filled in the gap with a quick synopsis and included some photo albums of each event as a placeholder until I can complete a full write up of my experience that does each trip justice.

May 2016: Masters 1000 - Rome, Italian Open

Italian Open Champion's Trophy
This has been my best Masters 1000 and Clay court tournament experience to date. The photographers and Canon CPS were so gracious! I was able to receive a photo pit armband to cover the warmup of the Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic semi-final.

It was also the first time I had been at the press conference of either man.
JC at "Grandstand" court - sunken into ground

The hospitality of the Italian people plus all the volunteers and ball kids was unmatched. So much passion and energy in that city, it is hard to compare. Rome is definitely a top favorite tennis event, a sentiment with which Roger Federer also agreed when asked in an interview earlier this year.

The Canon Professional Services team was 1st class.

Canon CPS of Italy allowed me to check out the Canon 5D mark iii and the 70-200 mm f/2.8 IS II lens each day as long as I returned it each night before they left.

That saved me from carrying some very heavy gear back and forward to the event. I am eternally grateful to allow me a chance at these photos at Internazionali BNL d'Italia.

July 2016 & 2017 - Military Kids Charity Event with Sponsors

Tennis Olympics 2016

Part of YoPro (young professionals) outreach by the USTA. It was a fun indoor event held on a day when it was pouring rain outside. We each got to "represent a country of our choice" and we competed for both team and individual awards. It was a lot of fun as the Tennis Olympiad idea was an out of the box concept.

Hands down was much better than almost every other "indoor social" USTA-sanctioned" event that uses typical cookie-cutter activities that nobody wants to repeat.

Nov 2016 - Sanchez-Casal Academy - Tennis Coaches' Boot Camp

Revisiting after almost 8 years. It was a trip to Naples, FL and offered an upgrade to my coaching certification. More importantly, it was chance to meet some of the top College coaches and club owners in the country and from Europe / South America. The courses covered aspects of the Executive Leadership Program that Luis Mediero teaches around the world as well.

This was definitely not a vacation at the beach. It was pretty much 7am-7pm non-stop learning, teaching, practicing the whole time there at Naples. I did not even have a chance to see any sand while I was there for that week. It was a great opportunity to re-learn all the X, V drills so many years ago. The students were all very hard working and instructors offered useful advice all along the way.

The week was split into two parts - a 3-day course for teaching juniors and then another 3-day course for coaching at the professional level. I was humbled by the amount of time, energy, coordination and organization that goes into being a professional coach at that level.

Read more about my trip here and the courses. I made a lot of wonderful friends with fellow coaches and the ASC staff.

Feb 2017: ATP/WTA Indian Wells (revisited)

I honestly enjoyed the 2013 event much better when the old management under Charlie Pasarell made it a true tennis haven. It feels like Tommy Haas' first year was an attempt to save the tournament after Raymond Moore had to resign due to his remarks.

Although I tried to enter the Wild Card tennis challenge, they were unable to accommodate because I arrived too late in the afternoon (not in the morning). Problems with the lights and facility made several courts unavailable which blocked up matches.

I was happy to be able to watch the young Claire Liu win the women's wild card as a junior and later she became a Girl's Champion at Wimbledon for singles and doubles.

Sadly, the high quality of the practice courts views for spectators we loved seemed to have diminished due to the restructuring of new "mini-stadiums" that required a good bit of effort to reach and get around. It prevented fans from easily roaming the grounds as freely.

The folks I met and reconnected with outside around Palms Springs made this trip a real success for me. The tennis world makes this an annual reunion that is a great experience.

It was a chance to reconnect with the great team at Essential Tennis of Ian Westermann, Ira and of course, the photogenic Kirby was a highlight of my trip.

We got a quickie selfie in before their personalized tennis coaching course began. I missed the Meetup but was glad to see other ET Fam and Fans at Monterrey CC.

Lastly, I was able to get back in touch with the Palms Springs International Tennis Tournament Director, Daniel Nabedrick.

During a few days, I got a chance to play hours with some of the adult guests and their family that were in the competition there at Palms Desert Country Club. The pros there were also a lot of fun, but the singles tennis was excellent and got a chance to meet some very successful folks from around the country.

A wonderful facility and there is no nicer guy in the world than Dan.

 A day trip out to Joshua Tree to hike up on Ash Wednesday was also a great experience and get some exercise out there.

The Palm Springs Tram up to the top of the mountain is a very nice contrast in scenery. You literally get all 4 seasons within just an hour.

Palm Springs has a very active and lively tennis and golf community.

Home of some of the fittest retirees in the country lives in this area!

March 2017: USPTA Professional - certification upgrade

After being a USPTA coach for over 10 years, I decided to go for the Professional / Elite level tests to see how I would do.

It was an eventful 2-day course that reinforced the basics and added a lot of useful tips for coaching.

For anyone interested in learning the game more deeply or would like to coach part-time or full-time, it is a great tool and resource.

I was able to network with a lot of coaches including former top 500 in the world players as well as veterans with over 30 years teaching experience.

July 2017: Tennis Hall of Fame Open (Newport, RI)

This is my first ATP 250 and Grass Court event that I had attended.

The history of the location and my desire to be at a Grass tournament made this trip another one with a quick turnaround.

The media staff and Hall of Fame crew were amazing and super professional.

Brentan and Anne Marie were both top notch in terms of support and accommodations during the whole event and tournament.

I had a chance to meet some of the all-time greats of Photography and Journalism while chatting Media.

The caliber of celebrities (including John Legend and Chrissy Teigen) and powerhouse players in attendance to witness the ceremony was staggering.

The museum went through a recent modernization effort to digitize so much of the memorabilia. Not an easy feat given how long the sport has spanned.

Being a part of the Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters induction ceremony was a very special moment in tennis history. Getting a few pictures of Jaden posing next to her own iconic image at the US Open was magical.

It was a fun and enjoyable time to take some photos at their annual Fashion Show as well.

Visiting the town of Newport, RI - I loved the Cliffwalk at Sunrise and Sunset. Just spectacular to be near the water in that area with all the beautiful boats on the water.

A short day trip out to Cape Cod also allowed for some site-seeing at the end as well.

Although it was quite warm in July, it was the perfect beach weather in New England.

Summer 2017 - Citi Open, US Open

The 7th year in a row.

Lots of new staff changes on my team and much more rain than I expected - leading to some flooding issues at the Media Tent.

We were able to attend a Citi Open dinner with celebrity Chef Bryan Voltaggio at Range in DC. Also, a run in with Grigor Dimitrov was a highlight of the year for my social media guru.

A chance to take some pictures from some new vantage points around the practice courts offered some shots of the fan favorite from Argentina, Juan Martin Del Potro.

We saw a break out year for Alexander Zverev winning the title. The court surface at the main stadium was not appreciated by end of year World #8 Jack Sock.

Although it was extra hot and humid as usual in DC, the caliber of women players that attended made the event very worthwhile to attend mid-week.

18 Months of Tennis Summary
Many new places and faces.
Great memories that will last a lifetime.
A part of Tennis History - both as Witness and Recorder. 

Onward toward a great 2018 season next year.
Hoping to see Federer and Nadal keep their record year going! The US Open should be getting a brand new Armstrong Stadium this fall. There will even be a New York Open 250 premiering in Long Island in Februrary.

Bucket List Trips for 2018?

  • 2018 Volvo Open in Charlestown, SC?
  • Clay Court Masters: Monte Carlo or Madrid Open (if Nadal is healthy)
  • Visit to Nadal's new Training Academy Review (Majorca, Spain)?
  • Shanghai Open in October

Sunday, June 11, 2017

3 Important tips for Watching the US Open Live!

Want to see the top tennis players in the world? Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and almost all top player are in NYC at the biggest Tennis Stadium in the World!
JC Tennis Photos

If you're a real tennis fan in the USA, you gotta go see the US Open at least ONCE in your lifetime!  NYC Summer fun!

It's your chance to catch a glimpse of 2017 Grand Slam winners Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal!
Below, I show you how to get the best US Open experience and tickets...

Please subscribe to get all my tips sent to your email (in bite-size nuggets of wisdom). So you can read it over later and take with you to the US Open!

Free 2017 US Open Ticket Discounts and Tips

About the author:
I have personally attended over a decade's worth of Grand Slam tennis (all four). Been to NYC dozens of times in my life, with family and friends there.

The sport has given me an insider's view at all the Tennis Majors as a tennis fan, player, coach, and now as a sports media photographer and journalist.

The purpose of this article: I want to share my experiences and tips with others to get the best experience possible for new fans. Because I get asked in person all the time, it was just easier to write it down.

As an USTA Organizational Member and USPTA Professional - I'm committed to making the US Open Experience fun, affordable for ALL my fellow Americans.

Tickets are still sold by fans in June-August, even on so-called "sold out" sessions it's not too late!  Holiday Weekend Tickets get sold more quickly. However, prices and new tickets are updated daily, so bookmark this and check back!

Our Facebook Updates keep you in the loop about upcoming schedule and player changes.

The US Open is located in NYC around late August to early September. A great time to visit the beautiful city of New York around Labor Day and enjoy some great tennis, food and summer fun.  Below are some great tips for enjoying your tennis experience below...

Tip #1) How to get great value out of your US Open tickets

Which ones to buy or avoid, and most importantly where to look; one secret site unknown to many fans...

Read this...before you buy tickets! Free US Open Tips.

In my emails, I'll cover tips for this year based on the new Ashe Roof and Grandstand Stadiums:

Top 3 Fan Tips plus more Q&A below: 

1) How to get great, cheap tickets but still be able to see your favorite Tennis star up close

2) When and where to go to get Autographs, pictures with the pros

3) Which seats you should try to choose (the best game perspective, the best pictures, the most comfortable (shaded seat) in at each stadium 

How to get the best value on US Open Tickets
First thing is to buy tickets - without these, you can't go in. Figure out when you want to go and look up the prices.

If this is your first time, and you want to just experience some tennis - try to go the first week.

My advice given in my email list is to wait for the summer promo codesas this is when there is a good deal (around $80 for Ashe tickets) - they usually go on sale as early as May for USTA members. But worry not - you can still get them as late as the month of August without a membership...

Here is a great tennis ticket tips site with lots of US Open promo codes.

1) TicketMaster owns all original US Open Tickets.

Use TicketExchange to buy them anytime and re-sell if needed 

My best advice is usually to wait until July-August to look for the best deals. For example on 8/3/10,  they released an annual code "WFANDANGOin the morning which has seats available for $12 for both the 1st week and the 2nd week.

These codes were last available back in 2011, but google "Tennis Bargains" to get other US Open promo codes.

There are also 2-for-1 (buy one get one free) tickets that are around $25-$35 each that are for the Upper and Lower Promenade, which is a bit closer.
You can always sell your extra ticket here.

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