It’s the first week of November and I’m ten days removed from the final tournament of the 2011 Champions Series. What a run it was: One-night tournaments taking place in 12 cities over a 31 day period all across the United States where I played against an incredible lineup of players: Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe, Connors, Chang, Wilander, Lendl and Martin. Four players faced off each of the 12 nights in major arenas such as the TD Garden in Boston, Verizon Center in DC, United Center in Chicago and Staples Center in LA. It was a great experience on many levels and most of all it was rewarding to see, meet and hear the tennis fans who came out to watch us battle for the nightly crown.
I’ve played quite a few tournaments and exhibitions in recent years but this schedule was a different ask, both physically and mentally, than I was accustomed to. First of all playing one-set matches forced the intensity levels higher than normal as there was no room for a slow start in the matches. Secondly, the travel was constant and relentless. Starting a weekend with a tournament in Seattle on Thursday, flying late Thursday to LA to play there on Friday followed by one more flight late Friday night to Las Vegas for a Saturday night tournament was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. The travel was the hardest part for me, although there were quite a few fun times on the plane with the other players. It can be challenging to arrive at the hotel at 3am after a post-tournament flight with the knowledge that you have big matches ahead of you as well as a lot of other requirements which make the Series work. Some may think it’s simply playing the matches at night but there’s a lot more that goes into a day at one of these stops. Let me show you what each tournament day consisted of in these events for all of the players:
12pm: Phone interviews from hotel room (30 minutes)
2pm: Check out of hotel and leave for the Arena
3pm: 1 hour hitting session on center court with sponsors and VIP Clinic Experience purchasers (2 players do this at 3pm and the other 2 players do another session 4-5pm)
4pm: Autograph items for VIP’s in the locker room (15 minutes per player)
5pm: fifteen minute media session on center court
5:15pm: warm up with another player for matches (20 minutes)
6pm: 15 minute Q&A session in VIP area with emcee Brett Haber and questions from the audience (each of the 4 players does 15 mins separately from 6-7pm)
6:45pm: Stretch w/our physio Gary Kitchell and get ready for the matches (15 mins)
7pm: All players take photos in private room with VIP Backstage Experience purchasers (15 minutes or so)
7:20pm: Do pre-match TV interview in the tunnel
7:30pm: Semi-final #1 (some nights I played the 1st semi and others the 2nd. Relax time was pretty much during the other semi)
8:15pm: Semifinal #2
9:15pm: Championship match
10:30pm: Tournament over, stretch-shower-pack up
11pm: Leave arena for the airport to catch flight with all players and Series staff to next city
11:45pm: Plane takes off
1:30am: arrive at next city, car takes us to hotel
2am: Arrive at hotel and try to sleep.
Rinse and repeat.
Three of the five weekends had three tournaments (thurs-fri-sat), one of the weekends had two events (fri-sat) and one weekend just a single event (just Saturday night – that was easy!).
Playing/competing is obviously the main thing I needed to focus on but as you can see there were a lot of other activities during the day which ensured the VIP’s and Sponsors had a special experience as well, which they did. Ultimately, I got into the rhythm of these events and learned how to manage my energy to be able to peak for 7:30 each night. By the end of the Champions Series I was playing at my highest level, which allowed me to win two of my last three tournaments and finish in 2nd place in the final rankings, behind Pete and just ahead of Andre.
If you want to see some of the “behind the scenes” moments for yourself there will be plenty included alongside the tournament matches in the Champions Series TV shows which have begun airing on Fox Sports Net (FSN) all across the United States. All twelve tournaments will air both on FSN as well as Tennis Channel so check your local listings for Champions Series Tennis and tune in to see us do what we do best…and some other stuff.
For my next blog I’ll put together some thoughts on some of the more memorable matches and moments from the 2011 Champions Series. There’s a lot to choose from.