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Nadal Fans

Joel Drucker: The Long Road to Practice

For the four members of the Rodriguez family -- father Virgilio, mother Monica,

daughters Monica and Andrea -- Sunday morning in Guadalajara, Mexico began with a 1,200-mile flight to Tijuana. There followed the 222-mile drive to Indian Wells. No doubt they were tired that evening, but by Monday morning at 10 a.m., the Rodriguez quartet was precisely where it wanted to be: courtside at Indian Wells Tennis Garden alongside a practice court. Every one of the 200 seats to the east of the court was taken, along with a dozen or so others standing at the north and south corners and many more crammed into metal bleachers behind the court. Rafael Nadal, the family’s favorite, would soon be coming.

Nadal soon entered, joined by his doubles partner, Bernard Tomic. It’s been one of the biggest head-scratchers of the tournament, this pairing of one man who in the face of crisis personifies persistence and another who frequently embraces acquiescence. But here they were, conducting tennis business. There were the concise, measured strokes, sharp volleys, serves, returns.

The younger Monica, 19 years old, was the tennis player in the family. Her favorite Nadal moment had been his 2008 Wimbledon win over Roger Federer. And given the woes that have accompanied Nadal’s entire career, perhaps it should be no surprise that Monica, a student at the Universidad Autonoma of Guadalajara, is studying physical therapy. “What I like most about Nadal,” she said, “is his personality.

(Nadal fans)

As Nadal exited the court, he signed his name on balls, draw sheets, hats. Three feet away from the area the Rodriguez foursome had just vacated, Frankie Moulton of Wilmington, North Carolina smiled in approval. But her friend, Krystal Moore, also from Wilmington, witnessed it all with traces of tranquility. Much as Moore too appreciated Nadal, she had another subject in mind.

“Sunday we flew cross-country to LA,” said Moore. “I’ve never seen Federer in person. When we saw he was playing Sunday night, we bought tickets on the plane. Our flight got into LA at 3:30, but by the time we got here, he’d just finished his match. I was devastated.”

Monday morning, Moulton and Moore arrived at the gates prior to their 9 a.m. opening. Once inside, they saw the practice schedule – Federer due at 2 p.m. Finding two prime seats just perpendicular to the net, the two immediately began their campout – first for Nadal at 2, then three hours in temperatures near triple digits to await Federer.

“It was great,” said Moulton afterwards, “We met the nicest people, just a fun posse of people hanging out.”

(Waiting for Federer)

As the moment of Federer’s arrival neared, the seats, largely vacant for hours, began to burst past capacity.

(Krystal watching Federer)

Over the course of Federer’s tidy 30-minute session, Moore found herself dazzled. “He’s so smooth and has the prettiest balls. He moves like he’s on a cloud. So cool to see him and hear his voice. I don’t know what I’m going to do with this. It was incredible.”

For the players, nothing more than a brief set of Monday meetings, Nadal’s in the morning, Federer’s in the afternoon. For the fans who get the chance to occupy this event’s 2,700 seats around the practice courts, a chance to get extremely close to tenis’ greats. Said Moulton, “It was the most amazing afternoon of our lives.”

(Federer's signature)

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