The Road to Rafa Part 1: Madrid Spain

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

In 2022, I was a Madrid Open media credentialed photographer.
All tennis fans should come visit Madrid! Explore the marvelous medieval capital of Spain.

Enjoy a delicious tapas tour - with fellow international tennis fans

Top Highlights of Madrid

  • Beautiful Day trips with fans, friends, and family-friendly vacations
  • Visit world-famous parks, museums, and towns in the morning.
  • Eat a late dinner then enjoy more exciting tennis at night!
  • High-speed AVE trains and modern metro system make it very tourist-friendly.


"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.

In 2022, I worked alongside ATP Media, Amazon Prime, and Tournament's Media Team. The tournament is featured in Netflix's "Break Point" - Episode 4: Great Expectations

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.
The Mc'D menu there is very different 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:
(Tennis training hub of Europe)

The Roadmap to Rafa - Summer in Europe

One Tennis Pilgrimage - sharing my own chapters...from the modern gospel of Tennis.
Stories from this Tennis Player's "Camino de Santiago" trail - 2021 was a Holy Year.