June 2021: Tennis on European grass opens prematurely

The Tennis Trip to Germany I Wish I Hadn’t Made

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.

Taking a pass on Wimbledon

With Wimbledon set to start in late June, the thought of staying in Europe and making my way from Germany to London to visit the All England Club was tempting. But London, as well as the rest of the UK, has a 10-day mandatory quarantine to enter. Plus, there were many fears of COVID outbreaks and new Delta Variants spreading, factors that could have potentially made re-entering the US from the UK tricky.

The mounting number of withdrawals at Wimbledon among many top seeds including Nadal, Osaka, Halep, Thiem, Goffin, Raonic also makes this Championship Title diluted from a true "Open" format perspective.

Ultimately, I decided to skip this final leg of the grass-court season. Even my UK to US flight was canceled by TAP, so I had to make arrangements via my business Twitter account to return from Germany instead. It would have been too risky to dawdle in Europe longer waiting for an opening.

Words of Wisdom from the Berlin Wall
It is a great privilege to be part of tennis media. But to push the boundaries for the sake of carrying on is not logical. The exclusivity of having a singular presence is not worth the absence of the crowds.

My recent odyssey to Europe ultimately reminded me of a thought I had standing at the Berlin Wall:
"The real power of passing through walls is proportional - not to the thickness of the barrier - but the value of being on the other side."

Time will tell how the UK covid-19 cases will react due to the Euro Cup soccer event coupled with Wimbledon. This will need to be monitored carefully in July.

The real challenge is how the American hard court season will fare. The US Open series kicks off with Atlanta and the first Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati in August.

US Open Fans can sign up for live updates on our email newsletter to get conditions reported directly from the ground.

If the situation is not fan-hospitable and safe for us to attend personally as media, we will not recommend anyone else to attend either.

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.

Railways of Roger - Part 1: Zurich
Swiss welcome the end of Winter with an exploding snowman!

On the way to the Monte-Carlo tournament in 2018, I purposefully took a long layover in Switzerland.

After the Road to Rafa series, I created this article to start the "Railways to Roger" series. It seemed an appropriate introduction to those new to Federer country. A new book just released: Footsteps of Federer (March 2021) takes you through Switzerland.

Rafa was pretty happy with seeing Zurich when Roger played tour guide for the "Match for Africa".


For tennis fans, it's the perfect opportunity to take a short hop on the train transfer from the airport to the city center. You can be in the city within 15 minutes!

I can highly recommend this layover for anyone flying through Europe on Luftansa or Swiss Air (great lounge!). Aim to take an extended layover (at least 4 hours) if you want to check out Zurich. Even if you just are at the airport, I always find great souvenirs and authentic chocolates to share back home with my students and friends.

 

A stroll near Lake Zurich will allow travelers to cross several of the bridges displaying the beautiful architecture and history of this city. The swans like to come out to join the humans around lunchtime.

The tourism center is right inside at the corner of the train station. It can provide you many other ideas and sights to see on the map. The city center is very walkable with many shopping choices. One can even charter a boat tour down the river.


Spring Festival Holiday

As fortune would have it, I arrived during a National Holiday known as Sechseläuten or in German: Sächsilüüte. Usually on the 3rd Monday in April, it consists of a parade of horses and flower floats to welcome the arrival of Spring after a cold winter.


Böögg the Snowman

The climax of the parade is a giant bonfire built under a mega-sized snowman filled with explosives! The snowman is affectionately named Böögg. The horses ride in giant circles around it until it becomes engulfed into a huge pyro display. Plenty of fire safety precautions are taken to keep the flames from getting past the inner ring

As tradition has it, the quicker and bigger the explosion of Böögg, the sooner the Zurich citizens should expect a warm arrival of summer. It is the equivalent of our Groundhog's Day in the USA.

This is a celebration of the end of Winter and the start of Spring in Switzerland.

Sechseläuten_2010_-_Böögg (Explosion)
By Roland zh

Children's Parade Day - Kinderumzug

The Sunday before the holiday is when the Children's parade (Kinderumzug) takes place with the kids and horses all dressed up. Flowers are given away to the men of the parade as part of the tradition.




Documentary: Battle of the Alphorn or Alpine Horns

With more time I would take a day trip to Interlaken and another to Lucerne.

Mount Titlis is a great glimpse of the Swiss Alps if you cannot take a helicopter ride around the Matterhorn. The layover should give tennis fans an opportunity to explore ideas on future returns.


Basel, Switzerland - Part 2...

Coming next in Part 2: the very next Spring in 2019.

I came back to Switzerland.

This time to see a new city - Basel, Roger's hometown!

Mid-Transit from Europe to North America:
I was on my way back to America after visiting the Rafa Academy.

It was an opportunity to do some training in Mallorca, Spain with Rafael Nadal, Uncle Toni, and special WTA guest Naomi Osaka all preparing for the French Open after Barcelona...

To make any Euro tennis trip complete, I decided I need to be fair and also a tennis pitstop as a loyal fan of Mr. Roger Federer.

He is also a global ambassador for Uniqlo and overall just a great guy.


The actual day trip from Zurich to Basel was quite a whirlwind journey.

Hear how I nearly missed my 2nd intercontinental flight back to America in 2019.

Travel side note - how to miss a flight properly:
While returning from the Aussie Open in January, I ended up having to buy two tickets to come back from Melbourne via Honolulu!

I actually had to watch my Virgin Australia plane back up and take off from the gate without me (even after they cleared me for an upgrade!)


More details and exciting tennis travel stories to follow in the next chapter.

Stay tuned!