One beautifully sunny Monday, we bought tickets to the China Open and watched some world-class tennis at the National Tennis Centre. We found out about the event from the flyers around the city, showing familiar faces such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams and bought tickets for £10. It was the best £10 each of us has ever spent – we didn’t know the line-up at the time, but we were about to see some of the most famous athletes of our time battle it out on the various courts of the Beijing grounds.
Our tickets were for the Diamond Court, which included access to the small stadiums as well as the practice courts. We first saw the defending US Open Champion, Marin Cilic, defeat an unusually dressed Bai Yan of China (ranked 462) 6-3, 6-4. Although it was a fairly empty stadium, the atmosphere was great as the Chinese supporters cheered on their countryman to the end.
After this, we ashamedly became one of the many fans waiting for Djokovic to come out onto the practice courts. With autograph paper at the ready, and our phones on ‘selfie’ mode, we were left disappointed as the Serbian failed to appear. I did succeed in getting autographs from Richard Gasquet and Svetlana Kuznetsova though, so all was not lost! We also witnessed sheer desperation/love from a particularly passionate Chinese fan – “Martin, Martin, please, thank you, good luck, please Martin!” We’ve yet to find out whom this mysterious Martin is, but his PR man is obviously doing a good job in China.
One of the highlights of the day was being seated about 5 metres from the Moon Court on which Rafael Nadal was playing doubles with fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar, against John Isner (USA) and Thomas Berdych (CZE). The Moon Court is one of the smaller stadiums in the grounds, and gave the match an intimate and friendly feel. Whilst it was inevitably very competitive, Nadal in particular was visibly relaxed, and joked around with his compatriot between games. Although our beloved Spaniard ended up losing 5-7, 6-4, 10-4, it was a great match, with some wonderful shows of tennis on the Beijing blue courts.
We saw the tail-end of Serena Williams winning in straight sets against Silvia Soler-Espinosa, and then watched a particularly tense match between Alize Cornet and Jelena Jankovic. It was unfortunately riddled with ball-boy and umpiring errors, which did not help the particularly fierce mood of the two players. Liberty and I got the brunt of this when our area of the stadium was directly addressed by Cornet: “Could you STOP talking please?” We were only whispering I promise! The French-women ended up winning in three sets against the former China Open champion, and official congratulations were made to “Jelena Cornet” at the end of the match for her win.
After a brief dinner, we made our way back to the Diamond Court for our last match of the day. The evening session was much busier as the crowds bustled in to see Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov play Fernando Verdasco of Spain. After Dimitrov easily won the first set, we were rooting for Verdasco to come back to make it a three-set match. We got our wish, and the 30-year-old Spaniard was eventually defeated 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in 1 hour and 36 minutes of superb play. It was a brilliant way to finish a very successful day of spectating – we also saw Murray, Sharapova, Bouchard, Isner and Gasquet on the practice courts. I’m very much starstruck!