Living the Life (Tennis Style) - Playing at Monte Carlo
Every tennis lover is familiar with the Centre Court of the prestigious Monte Carlo Country Club. For years I have watched the cameras on TV pan out to the club house and up to the overlooking cliff - envious of all those I can see in the expensive seats mid-point.
So, you can imagine my reaction when I was invited to take part in a team event hosted on the hallowed clay of the MCCC.
Fast forward to September and no sooner had we gone through passport control, we were in the presence of Novak Djokovic collecting his luggage following a surprise exit from the US Open. If we weren’t already excited to get on court – we certainly were after a run-in with tennis royalty. A short taxi journey later and we were checked in at the hotel. The concierge told me that this is where Nadal stays during the Masters 1000 event. Surely, meeting Djokovic and staying where the 11-time champ stays were signs of glory to come...
Thursday was the day… and it was finally here! All whites on and bags meticulously packed we marched up hill to get on court. I couldn’t wait to feel the dirt under my feet and stain my socks and pockets in the 30 degree sun. As we arrived, our aspiration sky rocketed as we saw young Canadian hot shot Felix Auger-Aliassime rip a forehand winner.
Alongside its 21 clay courts, the club boasts two hard courts, squash courts and a pool. Whilst I was surprised by how modest the changing rooms were, the glorious white tiled outdoor terrace shadowed under those characteristic broad canvas umbrellas peering over Centre Court made it feel as good as it had always looked.
Located on the ‘Avenue Princesse Grace’ (an avenue named after Grace Kelly and reputedly the most expensive Avenue on the planet) there cannot be a more befitting and beautiful tennis arena in the world than that of the MCCC. Glistening sea, bright white yachts, lush green trees and brick, red clay.
Show time… I stepped onto court 13 and felt the grit under my soles. It felt great. I fished for my racket and regripped it as I always did - except this time, I was looking down across the MCCC. It felt great. The opposition fed my first forehand. It felt great. The bounce was higher and slower than I had expected, which, coupled with my Bambi-on-ice footwork as I struggled to find my clay court feet meant winning ugly was the best I could hope for. It felt great.
That night we went for dinner in what is best described as a bustling indoor street food market. Now, my French isn’t great, but you could tell that the waitress wasn’t impressed with how the Chef was carrying on in our chosen eatery. I’m not sure that that angry Chef was the nicest person around, but he knew how to make a pizza. It was incredible. We filled our boots and strolled back to the hotel counting the luxury cars that were parked street side – Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley and my personal favourite, a vintage Aston Martin DB4 in light blue.
My teenage dreams of show court stardom were realised on day two when we were rostered on to Centre Court. Memories of watching my heroes Nadal, Kuerten, Coria and Federer running vividly through my mind would, surely, inspire me to victory?
Alas, my forehand had deserted me, my usually rock solid kick serve was nowhere and my backhand… well, it’s never been much anyway. Perhaps it was because of the searing 35 degrees, perhaps it was the wine from the night before - I didn’t care. Looking up from the court across the expensive seats, up to the cream coloured luxury clubhouse and to the iconic rocky cliffs meeting the skyline, this was not my best tennis, but perhaps the best tennis experience of my life.
We came off court to find that we were unable to qualify for the next round – we had all fallen short to Brazilian clay court knowhow. Our sorrow was short lived as we ate a sublime Mediterranean lunch on the terrace (in the expensive seats) watching the surviving teams thrash it out.
After spending the remainder of the late afternoon poolside at the hotel, we suited and booted for a dinner at the Monte Carlo Yacht Club. Prizes were awarded to the champions – Team Monaco (their home advantage paid off) as we dined on fine cuisine, the names of which I couldn’t pronounce. The evening continued and we ventured to sample the Monte Carlo nightlife, after all, we had nothing to play for!
Before our flight the next day, with heavy hearts (and heads) we made one final trip up the hill and descended back on to centre court to collect photos next to the ‘MONTE CARLO’ print in the clay, the clubhouse and cliffs in the background. My visit to the Monte Carlo Country Club is one I cherish.
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