This is week two of a multi-week segment of ITF professional circuit futures tournaments. These are combined events, meaning men and women play side by side. And so, because tennis players’ grunting and shrieking tend toward the suggestive, and since the courts are behind an opaque row of hedges, several curious tourists have poked their heads into the scene wondering just what exactly the hell is going on here.
The six courts consist of a grainy cement, making topspin kick heavenward and slices less navigable than the government’s health care website. Next to the tennis facility, a large soccer field plays host to several tourists and a cadre of tennis players who’ve apparently already lost in the tournament and are looking for a cardio outlet. Soccer skills here run the gamut – from World Cup worthy to one man who has, unbelievably, actually kicked his own ass.
Outside temp is 84 degrees with humidity nearing Federer serve percentages. In tropical zones, it is not uncommon to see iguanas roaming the grounds, and at least two attending parents have already rolled ankles trying to escape these long lizards. Thus, the trainer is unexpectedly busy.
While this week’s tournament plays through it’s final rounds, next week’s competitors are already arriving to practice, to scout, and to acclimate themselves to conditions. This athletic watering hole sees a whole lot of sizing-up, with players pointing, smirking, and intimidating each other with walks and glares. One gets the sense that if the referees weren’t around, this might turn into something UFC-ish.
Quintana Roo’s tournament director is a mailbox-height Mexican with greying hair and the type of smile that suggests he’s taken a few early morning tequilas. Compassion, however, is Sergio’s dominant trait, and he’s eminently accommodating to both players and coaches. Sergio began running this series of tournaments in 2013 and has now secured several local sponsors whose square banners shout philanthropic capitalism from the courts’ rusting chain-link fences.
We spend some time observing the players, the machismo of the South American clay courters, the technical prowess of the Eastern Europeans, the Western Euro flair, and the few Mexican kids that Sergio has given wildcards so that they too can experience the distant world of professional tennis. In a few hours, my young charges will battle some of these contenders.
Today’s practice went well, with both girls gathering a feel for the terrain and recognizing the higher intensity pro tennis requires – some of these women are playing for their families’ food after all. At one point, four doubles players screamed during a third set tiebreaker – two for the winer and two for the loss of a point. It’s a far cry from the junior events back in the States, but that’s exactly the lesson I want these kids to learn. Professionalism demands discipline, focus, commitment, and a level of passion these girls have yet to experience. Their wide eyes tell me they are absorbing it already.
Scoreboard: Mexico’s Temp + Humidity 187. My water consumption 18.5 litres. Hours at urinal .75
Tomorrow: Practice at 7:00 a.m.