My journey through the Slams
One again, our intrepid reporter, Ravi Ubha, completed his journey through the Slams. Although he wasn't quite as successful as King Djokovic, he did walk away with some lasting memories. Here they are:
Australian Open: Why wouldn't it be happy?
Four or five years ago I used to dread mid-January, even if it was in England and not my native Quebec. Oh, sure, there's no scraping ice off the windshield or shoveling the driveway in zero-degree temperatures, but it can get darn chilly and damp in London. My body has long adjusted to the British winter, and so I continually dream of warmer climes such as Florida and California, where you can play tennis outdoors virtually year-round.
Now there's respite. For roughly three weeks, the Australian summer provides a glorious escape. Well, glorious after the 23-hour journey -- hey, boss, don't you have any connections in business or first class? -- and getting through Australian customs. Any of you ever watch the reality TV show, "Nothing to declare?"
I'm almost afraid to bring clothes sometimes.
Once past customs, the adrenaline helps to counter jet lag, which really only subsides by the time you're ready to leave Australia. Figures, eh?
One of my first connections with the tournament comes when my media pass is scanned by Charlie, a friendly, robust, bald-headed man with a firm handshake. He'd memorize my name by the second day, and we'd have chats daily during the fortnight. It's something I looked forward to. Walking into the media center, the reception is similarly cheery.
The players are happy, too, because they're not tired and have had a break. The ensuing 10 months bring them hope.
For everyone, indeed, it's the Happy Slam. Why wouldn't it be?
French Open: Chance encounter
The journey from London to Paris is, thankfully, more simplistic.
Show up at the station half hour before your train, zip through immigration and security, and ease into your comfortable seat before passing through The Chunnel. It's as smooth as a Merlot.
Returning to London on a recent trip to Paris, I even managed to make my train despite arriving at the Gare du Nord 10 minutes prior to departure. I could have sworn the unhelpful receptionist at my hotel, who repeatedly said I didn't need to order a taxi to get to the station (she told me to surface at reception and simply wait, which didn't work out), wanted me to miss my inbound journey.
Paradoxically, the grind-it-out, dirt-laden event is played in the most elegant of cities, Paris. But that's what makes it one of the most unique and special events.
What stuck out for me at Roland Garros stemmed from a feature on the fascinating Jarmila Gajdosova, who is more of the gritty type. I needed to speak to her coach, Gavin Hopper, as my deadline approached. I thought I'd struggle to find him given Gajdosova's practice had ended that day and her team was probably back at their accommodation.
Leaving the quaint, or claustrophobic, media room to grab lunch, I decided to take an alternative exit just to change things up and get a different view. Good thing. I went up some stairs and spilled into a tournament thoroughfare, looked up -- and Hopper was the first person I saw.
He was happy to chat. I scurried to the media room to get my tape recorder, hurried back, and we conversed for about 20 minutes.
Chanceux (lucky), as the French would say.
Wimbledon: All in the family
Hotel prices in London, coupled with the extra ESPN staff at Wimbledon, means that it's often more economical to rent a house near the All England Club for a few weeks rather than book individual hotel rooms.
My fellow writer, the energetic and jovial Greg Garber, Matt Wilansky, the dashing ESPN.com tennis editor (hey, I'm trying to get a raise) and I stayed at lovely apartments in the quaint, pricey Wimbledon Village the previous two years. This year it was even better.
We secured a detached house a forehand away from the heart of the Village -- but far enough away to sleep in peace.
A bunch of the mornings went like this: Up at 7 (Mr. Garber is an early riser), off to nice, well-kept public courts for a hit, back to the house, then out again for breakfast at Giraffe, a casual diner that Andy Roddick frequents during Wimbledon. When we were in a hurry, a croissant -- or four -- was plucked from a local bakery (for the two who weren't gluten free).
On the second last day, a media doubles tournament is held. Having skipped the past two editions because of separate knee injuries, I was eager to take part in 2011. There were good prizes on offer, and I figured I'd do well: I play regularly, managed to keep my rhythm with those morning hits, and a handful of competitors were significantly older. After a decent start, it went south. The worst came last, when Greg and I bombed against a much senior duo. Perhaps undone by the pressure (we should have cruised), my forehand collapsed.
But I still walked away with a purple Wimbledon T-shirt.
U.S. Open: Oh, what a night
I was pumped. Super pumped. It was either going to be Djokovic continuing his mastery of Nadal, a great story, or Nadal turning the tables on the Serb, another great story.
Early on, everything went fine.
But trouble surfaced.
Strong winds, the strongest in about 15 years in England, were causing havoc in parts of the country. And even though London was spared the worst, I lost my internet connection. Goodbye play-by-play coverage, hello grief and torture.
I turned off the modem, then turned it back on again, hopeful the problem would be solved.
And I knew it was a lost cause when, minutes later, the cable conked out. By this time a colleague of mine, in New York, had thankfully taken over, coming to my rescue.
No TV, no internet, so I had to find a radio, which wasn't easy. An old, beat-up version was hiding in a cupboard, and after fiddling for 10 minutes with the dial, I found radio coverage of the final. Yes!
I kept with it for about an hour.
When Nadal took the third set and Djokovic seemed to be fading physically -- or so the announcers thought -- I couldn't take it anymore: I shut off the radio and went to bed, hoping my cable would return the next day and somewhere they'd show a replay.
The TV was indeed back the next morning. I avoided any and all stations that might have mentioned the score and tuned in early in the afternoon when extended highlights were being shown. The excitement returned -- only to dissipate rapidly.
After Nadal won that third set, there remained a mere 35 minutes in the scheduled TV slot, not nearly enough to show extended highlights of two more sets. Either one of the two retired, or Djokovic had won the fourth to finish off Nadal.
I was confident it was the latter, and when he went up a break in the fourth, I was sure.
For me, yes, it was thus an anticlimactic end to the Grand Slam season.
But it was an 18-hour spell I'll never forget.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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