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by Mauro Cappiello (from Halle Westfalen)
Where to start from? When you have the chance to meet your childhood idol, suddenly every word becomes foreseen. So I would like to begin from the kindness of the staff at the press office of the Gerry Weber Open. It was only thanks to them that, without any media credential, I managed to access the press conference of the Champions Trophy and, believe it or not, without really knowing how, I found myself sitting in the first row, watching the winners of 70 Grand Slam tournaments combined speak, two meters away from the man I had always only watched on tv and who was the owner of my feelings back in my teenage days.
I was there, waiting to come in at a sign of the tournament communication director after all the players had ended speaking. He, indeed, introduced me to Stefan who saw me and smiled at me, when he recognized the outfit I was wearing: «Ah… and he has a nice Adidas jacket!», he said, maybe going back with his memory to 25 years ago, when he lifted his second Australian Open trophy with that on.
I was not shaking as I thought I would be, it was such an informal situation, after all, and, no need to say, Stefan is surely not the guy who makes you feel uncomfortable or out of place. I had the chance of shaking his hand and came in with very straight words: «Hello, Stefan, nice to meet you. My name is Mauro and I'm from Italy. I'm the admin of STE...fans, the international fan community dedicated to you. I want to give you this special screenshot of the home page of my site in memory of this day, that, for me, ranks at the very top of the best moments that I had in my life».
Stefan didn’t know of the site (secretly I hoped he would…), but nevertheless he said: «Thanks very much, I appreciate it!». Then, he came down to the space before the seats in the media room and kindly accepted to take pictures of the moment. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to exchange more words with him. But, just the meeting itself was an extraordinary opportunity that I received from the tournament staff only thanks to the quality of my work and, maybe, to the human interest of the story of a fan who had flown to Westphalia from Italy just to hand his hero a little gift.
(photo contributed by Anke Rossol)
Two days before the Champions Trophy, I had been contacted by the press office, that, unexpectedly replied to my request for a private meeting with Stefan I had sent just for trying before leaving for Germany. Their kind email started this way: «Dear Mr. Cappiello, it is great to hear how much work and passion you put into the Edberg-Fanclub…». They informed me that no private meeting was possible, but a short fan meeting for giving Stefan our fan award was maybe within the reach of the tournament organization at the end of the post-match interview.
Meeting of STE...fans! In the first picture: me with Katrin Amberg (with Stefan's 1989 t-shirt), her parents (mother with 1989-1990 t-shirt) and Doris (our translator from German). In the second picture: me with Anke Rossol, photographer)
So, while a crowd of at least two hundred persons were waiting for the players’ exit from the Stadium, hoping for their autographs, I had the privilege of accessing the media room, where not more than 10 local journalists were allowed. I was with Anke Rossol, another fan of the page and also a huge Steffi Graf admirer, who is a photographer and had a media pass (she had given Stefan a cd with high resolution pictures of Stefan’s induction to Newport’s tennis Hall of Fame back in July 2004). In the media room entrance, I exchanged some words with the staff who showed so much interest in the website and cheered me on for the “event”, wishing me good luck, and also allowing me to recharge my smartphone that had completely gone out of battery, for all the pics and the HD videos I had taken during the day.
(photo contributed by Sandra Ramge)
I hadn’t got the chance to film the press conference or take photos of it. That was only for the officially registered media journalists. Nevertheless, I can report what Stefan said, that, after all, is not so different from what he said during the on court interview, just after the match (I filmed that and you’ll soon be able to see it on the site). Stefan said he had played an exhibition on grass in Sweden with Magnus Larsson, just the day before the Champions Trophy, ‘cause, «believe it or not, they’ve finally built two grass courts there, with the weather that we have…». He had words of appreciation for the tournament and the stadium, for the grass that reminded him of his Wimbledon days. He recalled that he had never played in Halle during his career and that he had had the intention of playing in 1996, his last year on the Tour, but he had got injured just before the tournament. The press interview was quite short. There were just two questions from the journalists after the moderator’s routine interview and they were both for Stefan. It was a pity I was not even allowed to talk to players… I wouldn’t have let sports heroes like Stefan Edberg and Martina Navratilova, a woman who has won 58 Grand Slam titles, has been an icon of human rights, has defeated cancer and has attempted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, get away before a burst of machine-gun fire of questions. But that was it!
Do you really care about the match, after all? Well, it was really a show much more than a match, often players laughed and joked, even during rallies. You can’t expect much more from a doubles senior exhibition, when even singles matches between former champions are played with smiles on their lips. There was even a moment when music was played during the match and the players found themselves dancing at the rhythm of the Italian pop song “Quando, quando, quando”. And the 10 thousand people crowd appreciated the atmosphere of relaxation… (By the way, it was amazing to see how many people chose to renounce to watch the French Open mens’ final on tv to attend an exhibition among legends. There’s a growing demand for Champions tennis, mostly by fans who are no longer satisfied with what tennis has become today, an aspect that can’t be ignored by tournament organizers).
(photo contributed by Sandra Ramge)
Myskina and Edberg started the match behind, suffering an early break, but then recovered and won the set 7-5, with a littile bit of quarrel on the set point, when the play was stopped for a presumed double bounce on a pick up from Martina. No story in the second set, when Stich and Navratilova went immediately up a break and closed 6-2. In my opinion, the match was decided in the Champions’ tie-break, on the score of 8-7 for the German/American team, by an amazing shot from Navratilova, a wonderful forehand lifted lob that overcame Stefan Edberg on the net and died just a few centimeters away from the bottom line, getting Edberg’s applause and an ovation by all the crowd. That shot alone was worth the ticket price… that, in the end, I could even have not paid, since I received a free ticket in a shop in the centre of Halle and also one from my friend Doris, another fan of the page and our translator from German. I watched the match next to her, sitting in a much better place than the one I had booked on the website of the Gerry Weber Open.
I can’t thank her enough for giving me the chance of watching Stefan Edberg’s dancing on grass just a few meters away from the court, a show that would have even captured the eye of an alien who doesn’t know what the word “tennis” means. I was also impressed by the sliced backhand vs sliced backhand by Stich and Edberg, but, unfortunately, most of the times the German shifted to Myskina “cutting” the ball, the rally ended… The Russian showed why she was the only player on court who had never won a Slam on grass and her lack of specialization on that surface was even more evident, because compared to the smooth movements and shots by three masters of what lawn tennis used to be. At the same time, it was nice to see Martina Navratilova in such a brilliant physical shape. Her stretch on the net and her touch are just a miracle, a joy to watch for a tennis fan of any age.
(photo contributed by Sandra Ramge)
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