It happened in a press room at Manchester City’s training complex. Back then, I was a football journalist in the U.K. It was a fun job, but it had no future, so a few months before I showed up at the premises of the Manchester club, I had decided to put an end to my career as a reporter. In fact, that day I was practically saying goodbye to my profession. It was time to return to Spain and make a living doing whatever I could. Then, as I was discussing it with a colleague who also happened to be there and who had contacts in the world of tennis, the possibility came up of working at the Mutua Madrid Open as part of the social networking team.
I knew it would be a very demanding position and I prepared for it. I wanted to provide the standard of content expected when one of the biggest tournaments in the world communicates with its fans. So I turned up with a few ideas up my sleeve that I thought could bring something to the editing team. Among them was something that was put into practice almost immediately; using a mobile phone stabiliser in order to record videos as if I were carrying a television camera rather than just a telephone. It worked perfectly and I immediately started to provide pictures that stood out enough for our audience to recognise the hard work we were doing in conveying everything that was happening on the Madrid clay. However, the device that brought me this success was somewhat similar to a selfie stick. It was more sophisticated, of course (with a couple of batteries and a few other gizmos), but certainly closely related to the famous pole used for taking one’s own photo. As a result, before the end of the first week of competition, everyone knew me as “Stick Man”.
Having now become the butt of everyone’s jokes, I filled up my time by running the corridors of the venue in search of never before seen images. Fans, security staff, tennis players, etc. everyone saw me carrying the stick around the stands, the courts, the training courts, the dressing rooms… nowhere was spared. All of this while respecting the players’ personal space, of course. Thanks to the stick and the sprints from one spot to the next, the fans were able to watch Andy Murray training in the entrance to the dressing room tunnel, join Novak Djokovic as he took to the centre court surrounded by ballboys or share beers with Simona Halep and the accredited media as she made good on a promise she had made when she progressed through one of the rounds, among many other things. And it was hard work. I had to be in the right place at the right time. Opportunism is an art that requires a great deal of patience (you have to wait for your subject to arrive) and a little luck (if they do not do anything of interest when they get there, all the waiting is in vain).
It may sound like the stick was a complete success, but that was not the case. There were also some resounding failures. Perhaps the greatest of all was when, at a Rafa Nadal training session, a member of his staff took an interest in our technology for recording the movements of his pupil. Amicable as always, I showed him the ins and outs of the device, explaining to him that we were broadcasting the session on Facebook Live. Taking an interest in what I was saying, and seeing that there were around 2,000 viewers, he grabbed the gadget and took over recording, focusing on anything he set his eyes on, apart from Rafa hitting balls. I didn’t know what to do. Fortunately for me he quickly tired and, having recovered the contraption, I brought the broadcast to an end, doing my best to fend off the torrent of comments demanding an explanation for why they were unable to see their favourite player in action.
It is difficult to foresee whether at this year’s Mutua Madrid Open we will have the success we have enjoyed previously or if there will be more cases of someone meddling where they do not belong. What is certain is that “Stick Man” will be back to capture the best pictures for the fans. Which is no more than they deserve.
*Juan Morán is part of the Mutua Madrid Open communication team and is one of the people responsible for the tournament’s social networks