Some coaches sleep in five-star hotels and rely upon tournament-sponsored transportation from white-haired volunteers via Porsche or Mercedes, as their charges contest for major titles. Others view tournament life from behind torn windscreens on the cracked courts of local high schools, or while going to town on an undercooked hot dog beneath ninety degree temps as they take in the second 3rd set tiebreaker of the junior tournament day. A few, however, like me, function as mezzanine coaches, guiding players on their journey from competitive junior into the pro ranks, right up until we pass them off to an Annacone or a Lundgren or a Gilbert. We’ve spent our time in the trenches, hitting felt-covered orbs by the thousand in hopes of launching a pro career, and then ridden our charges up the ladder until the term rankings referred less to ITF than to ATP or WTA.
Over the next two weeks, I’m tasked with taking you, the reader, on the road with me. Today we left for Quintana Roo, a province on the Southeastern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula – the Caribbean. Think 100-degrees and 96% humidity with bed-bugs the size of small rodents and you get the idea. The tournament is entry level, 10K in prize money, with $1800 to the winner – a sum equal to “just under” the cost of the plane tickets to get down there. At this level, profit is measured in ranking points not dollars. I’m with a 16-year old female in search of her first WTA point. If we can avoid the omnipresent drug cartels and the looming storm cloud of Montezuma’s revenge, this trip will prove productive.
Here’s an excerpt from today’s travels…
Since 9-11, international departure from the U.S. has become vaguely proctological. Having been thoroughly de-shoed, suggestively touched (once, but I really believe it was accidental) and scanned, we’ve now made our way onto Aeromexico’s Boeing 737 and into the severely compacted seats 17B and C. Head to foot we’d cover most of a service box’s width, so if you lack imagination, here’s an appropriate visual:
The pilot’s voice (Germanic-sounding) announces that, although we are departing on time, some of our luggage may not have made the flight, and that it will arrive shortly after we do, which, frankly, has the inadvertent resonance of an Auschwitz voyage and is starting to cause me anxiety.
At altitude, dehydration is an issue, moreso since we are heading into an equatorial climate with rabid temps. Thus, the eight-ounce water bottles now resting upon our tray tables are akin to using a Brillo pad on La Tour Eiffel. The “call for assistance” bells are elevator-ish and pressing one can incite really young passengers (the seat-kicking types) to follow suit repeatedly, apparently. After an hour of nearly continuous water requests, the airline attendant is giving us nasty looks and our tray tables resemble a collegiate dorm room, non-alcoholically.
Seat assignments on Aeromexico are about as meaningful as a love letter from Amsterdam. Thus, my player now sits on the far side of the aisle working out the Asymptotes of a Hyperbola (High school pre-calculus) as I endure the breath-mint-expired-five-minutes-ago scent of the man seated beside me. There are two types of travelers: those who enter travel with the sort of unmitigated joy that they now have a human being trapped within conversational range and therefore can deliver forth every issue they’ve ever wanted to discuss since the Big Bang ejected them into the universe. Telling them you are exhausted and that you intend to sleep for the duration means absolutely nothing, evidently. The other subset consists of what I refer to as Mimes, folks who communicate with sleepy hand gestures and awkward lip movements, which imply they are either experiencing a stroke or having some serious introversion issues. I have door number one next to me, and I do my best to ignore the prattler and settle in to feel the plane engines’ calming vertebral hum.
New word of the day: Unfairlines (def) airplane companies with Hobbit-sized seats and Giant-sized fees
Outside the window, the definitive color is construction-boot tan, as though the topography hasn’t had a drink for a few hundred years. Eventually, the horizon fades into blue and we land in Quintana Roo. The courts are dark and the gym is closed, so we’ll start this excursion with a light run and some touch volleys in the hotel lobby.
Tomorrow: First Impressions.