And it was time for some Autumn tennis again. This year the Stockholm tournament got itself a new name: Intrum Stockholm Open, and a new colour. But in essence things didn’t change much: it was the same beautiful sport played in the Royal Tennis Hall and almost the same team trying to do a great job, as always.
It was my 5th time at Stockholm Open and being there is so normal and natural that it feels that I’ve never actually had a one year break since last year’s tournament. Tennis-wise, this year brought up some interesting names and players that I wanted to see live. Former champion Juan Martin Del Potro came to defend his title, and tournament classics Dimitrov, Sock and Verdasco were also there.
A personal favourite of mine, Fabio Fognini, decided to visit Stockholm as well. The doubles draw was so amazing it was unbelievable. The Ymer brothers entered the race to defend their title, Fernando Verdasco paired up with Marc Lopez, Jean Julien Rojer, Horia Tecau’s regular partner, teamed up with former mate Aisam Qureshi, reforming one of the best teams in the past years and so did Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares. Paes and Zimonjic, doubles veterans and some of the best players in history, decided to sign in the competition alongside Raja and Sock. Of course, my focus turned again to Robert Lindstedt, pairing Jeremy Chardy and the Romanian duo Marius Copil/Florin Mergea. To my disappointment, both teams left the tournament early. Robert’s team met with Italians Bolelli/Fognini and lost in a flat 6-3, 6-1 match, while the Romanians faced a tight battle and frustrating loss in front of Erlich/Mektic with a 10-8 final score in the decisive tiebreak. These kind of matches can be extremely heartbreaking, both for the players but also for the audience, and when I say audience I mean me. All the Romanians are really dear to me and I love following them around the year in their tennis journeys but seeing them play live is, besides enjoyable, an honour. And of course that I like to show my support and that I try to understand their matches as best as I can. But if I thought this match was a heartbreak, nothing prepared me for Marius’s singles match against Jan-Lennard Struff. The Romanian lost a battle that went up to 14-12 in the last set’s tiebreak after saving several matches points, pulling himself together twice in the last set and fighting bravely. Actually, both players did that and in the end the best man won. This also meant I had to say goodbye to him and his team, and unfortunately for me, that was a sad moment since I barely see him play live. Since the tennis tournament in Bucharest got canceled I rarely get the chance to see the Romanians in action live, and when I do, of course I want them to stay in the tournament as much as possible.
The singles finals was somehow predictable, even if the semifinalists, Fabio Fognini and Fernando Verdasco put up a good fight, Dimitrov and Del Potro decided to re-edit last year’s semifinal with the same outcome: the Argentinian player won and he also took the title, again. This only made the tournament audience-friendly as most evening matches were sold out and so were the ones in the week-end.
Besides the beautiful tennis, Stockholm Open also meant a lot of time spent with a gang of very special and beautiful people: the tennis team that works behind the curtains making everything work smoothly. This team, as a whole, worked really hard last year, so hard that Stockholm Open was named ATP Tournament of the Year. A particularly amazing team worked hard as well, winning ATP Best Players Service for 2016, and funny enough it was my 5th year as a member in it. Hard work gets rewarded but not a lot of people realise how hard this hard work really is. If by any chance working with players seems fun and cool, all parties and star-struck people, think again. It takes diplomacy and professionalism, a great attention to details, a smile on your face even when you don’t feel like smiling and really long working hours. Yet again getting to the tennis hall early in the morning or leaving well after midnight offers a sense of what tennis is like before the crowds gather and the players start competing. Most of the time at the end of the day or at the end of the week you don’t really feel like partying, you just want to go home and rest.
But just as always Stockholm Open is an experience. It has tennis in the middle of it all and a lot of wonderful people on the side, from the colleagues and friends that you meet, to the staff you are working with, the players, families and teams, and even the VIPs who demand more attention than the real protagonists of the event. All in all it was a good Autumn for tennis. The season is almost over and my mind already moves forward to next year’s tennis adventures. For now, game, set, match, championship: Juan Martin Del Potro, Oliver Marach/Mate Pavic.