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

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 Clay. It just so happened that one was scheduled to be held in Madrid, Spain just the following week. The perfect storm....

 - in Madrid.
Plaza de toros (largest in Spain)JC at Bull ringgraffiti and windowsJC at palacio realFountain 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 a 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 EntranceMadrid Open Final Awards2009 madrid ball girls lorealJC at Mardid OpenYellow 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.

The other courts are also well lined up for easy spectator access. Lots of fans dot the scene, and even a Spanish Prince showed up to cheer on Rafa that day. It had the feeling of a real European soccer (football) match, with the rows dotted with red seats and yellow hats. The chants of Vamos could be heard all around and outside the stadium.

Clay court tennis in Europe has a very different feel than the hard court arenas of North America. If you are a true tennis fan, I highly recommend seeing one live and combining a mini-vacation with it*

Madrid Parks and Sights

Bullring - wide view
Prado courtyard with music and nice weatherLake 3From the Bull-fighting in Mardid to the Picasso Museum nestled in the Gothic quarters of Barcelona; I was eager to explore 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.

Inside there are works of art that date back for many centuries. Check out some of these priceless works in HD on Google Earth online! I found Spain to be an amazing country, full of vibrant culture and life. The people are very friendly, jovial and welcoming to Americans.

The Mc'D menu there is very different than from state-side. They have more biscuits and chicken on the menu. It is the food of choice for the youth (teenagers and early 20's). It was the most affordable meal over there too.

While there, I also got a chance to see the Plaza Manor area both in the day and its lively nightlife after dark. In Spain, they all eat rather late (after 8pm) so it took me a few days to get accustomed - sometimes I would be the first patron having "a late lunch" at some of these locations.

Prado Musuem artwork vendor
The people are all very kind even when they did not understand any English, they would encourage me to describe or even use gestures to describe what I wanted. It was all very sincere and I was pleasantly surprised that they would go this extra mile for a foreign stranger looking for a cheap bite to eat. They also have a custom of providing an empty glass with every bottled drink they sell - whether it was be water or orange juice or wine.

Next stop: Barcelona and the Sanchez-Casal academy (Tennis training hub of Europe)

European Tennis Tour - Summer 2009

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