*By Alejandro Ciriza
Picture the scene. On Calle Serrano in Madrid a large doorway divides two rooms inside a mansion; on one side there is a constant hustle and bustle, trays of champagne come and go, and there are people, so many people, from all walks of life: businessmen, artists, the odd ex-sportsman and a healthy group of celebrities; the other side could not be more different. Complete stillness, silence, peace. Just two people in the room, a huge baroque hall. At its far end there is an impeccably dressed gentleman with a side parting, perfect manners, and measured but engaging discourse. It is Roger Federer.
FE-DE-RER. No more, no less. One of the greats. It comes with the territory in this job that in among the daily chaos, a constant cycle of event after event, where haste is always by your side, it also offers the odd extraordinary moment, to which only a lucky few have access. Your scribe, lucky me, is one of them. The interview with Roger, the almost 20 minutes of recording, was probably one of the best possible ways to start as the head of tennis for the paper I write for, EL PAÍS.
That day I felt a little like the youth team player who is assigned a shirt and given a few minutes in a top-flight match. Excitement, eagerness and, of course, nerves. It was my first time, my debut, but it is a story that actually started long before. Two years previously I had the chance to see the Masters de Madrid from behind the scenes, but not as the head reporter. This time, for the first time, it was I who had the privilege of experiencing the first line of fire that comes with this tournament and everything that goes on during those 10 crazy days of gold-standard tennis.
Because having an event of this magnitude on your doorstop, in a facility such as the Caja Mágica, is a genuine privilege. And that is how the story with Federer started, but everything that came later was no less important. The meeting with Carla Suárez, Carlita and her outstanding game; those first conversations with David Ferrer, a guy who is, without a doubt, worth listening to; the constant coverage of Rafael Nadal, the king of them all; the time spent with the legendary Mr Manolo Santana and so many other stories that play out behind the scenes. Again, lucky me.
During those days, I opened my eyes wide and soaked everything up. I also discovered that, despite its enormity, the Caja Mágica can become a welcoming home, or that the press room becomes a mini Big Brother and that the people at the tournament are always there to lend you a hand where necessary. It is never easy to describe a first time, whatever the context or circumstances, because everything will inevitably be blown out of proportion, whether due to excess, deficiency or simple ignorance. But, without any doubt, it was worth it. It was certainly worth it. As for what is yet to come… lucky me.
*Alejandro Ciriza is a journalist for El PAÍS covering tennis. He has attended Roland Garros, Wimbledon, the BNP Paribas WTA Finals in Singapore and the ATP World Tour Finals in London. He has also covered the Mutua Madrid Open event for a number of years.