I attended only 14 tournaments in 2012. I fully acknowledge that is a ridiculous sentence to type. That tally, composed of two Grand Slams, three mandatory joint Masters 1000/Premier jamborees, two year-end championships and seven other events, is eight fewer than 2011, when I inadvertently chased Caroline Wozniacki’s total (for the record, we tied at 22).
That amount of travel makes me appreciate players’ weariness from a constant flow of airports, transport and hotel hopping. Before I started traveling regularly, I would roll my eyes at the idea that planes, trains and automobiles might have affected a player’s early-round loss. Now I find myself wondering if a player is jet-lagged or picked up a virus from a screaming baby on the plane. And I consider those excuses no less valid than any on-court injury.
To say that I never complain about traveling would be a lie. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows this. I’m sure many have hovered their mouse over the “unfollow” button the second I arrive at an airport, as I kill time and vent by tweeting about the crowds, inefficient customer service and my unbridled hatred of security lines. All that belies the fact that I love being on the road. I get itchy when I’m home for too long, stuck in a routine that, while perfectly pleasant, is entirely predictable. I know what time I need to wake up, what’s generally going to happen that day and when I’ll hit the hay. If I complete 80 percent of what I need to do that day, it’s a rousing success.
Given all the unpredictable moments and potential obstacles on the road, though, success is defined by arriving at my hotel or hostel in one piece. Unreliable Internet connections throw more wrenches into the process than you can imagine. Getting lost in a foreign city with no ability to communicate with anyone always looms as an issue. And even the basic skill of figuring out when to eat, where to eat and what to eat becomes a silly game of culinary Russian roulette. But apart from a few bumps and bruises, I’ve come out of it relatively unscathed, and with a fondness for the experiences.
Looking back on 2012, I don’t have any anecdotes from the road to share at holiday parties that will make a table of strangers say, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve always wanted to go there!” I suspect that’s largely because except for Charleston, S.C., none of the cities on my list this year were new to me. Still, when people ask about the traveling, the memories are more flashes of feelings or emotions, rather than something I saw or did, that made the trip worth it.
Here are a few of my favorite memories from the road this year.
• Rome is where the heart is: This year, Rome nudged ahead of Indian Wells as my favorite tournament to cover, thanks to one late-night adventure that started because John Isner’s comeback win over Philipp Kohlschreiber ran so late that I missed my last bus back to my hostel in Trastevere. The Foro Italico was a good 45-minute bus ride from the city center, and as I tried to decipher the Italian bus stop instructions while moped after moped whizzed by me, I had no idea how I was going to get home. It didn’t help that I had only a few euros in my pocket, which meant a taxi was out of the question.
So I rolled the dice and boarded the first bus I saw going in the general direction of the city and tried to figure out where I was heading without the aid of a map or the ability to, you know, ask anyone. Somehow, after an hour and a half of hopping from bus to bus and walking aimlessly around the now-empty, quiet streets, I miraculously found my way home. I even discovered an open restaurant for a bite to eat. In that moment I felt triumphant, as though I had bonded with Rome and that we were going to be friends for life. The next morning and every day after that, Rome seemed smaller to me. More manageable. Less overwhelming. To be able to wrap your mind and hands around a city like that seemed impossible.
• Hitting rock bottom Down Under: I had booked a few extra days in Melbourne after the Australian Open to just hang out. Melbourne is one of my favorite cities in the world because it reminds me so much of my hometown of San Francisco. It has trams and a dedicated coffee-house culture, and its diversity makes me feel like less of an outsider than I do when I travel elsewhere.
So when you’re in a city that reminds you of home at every turn, getting homesick is just a street turn away. By my third day of vacation, I was itching for that 36-hour flight home, begging for it to come earlier. And, finally, my cosmopolitan sensibilities broke. Still wearing my pajamas, I walked down to a McDonald’s a block away, ordered more food than one person should be able to eat, stopped at a liquor store to pick up a six-pack of Budweiser that cost me $23 and went back to the apartment to lay out my bounty and watch Friends.
• Weird things happen to me in London: London is my second home on the road. I’m there for more than a month during the grass-court season, and I return for the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of the season. Having friends there definitely helps make the city comfortable, and the fact that Wimbledon is my favorite Slam to cover just makes it a city full of good memories, despite the fact that its bars and pubs close so incredibly early. That’s probably a good thing, given that my friends and I witnessed a full-on brawl break out in the middle of the street in Wimbledon Village. The fracas involved traffic signs being tossed and grown men throwing punches at girls, with no police officer in sight. Oh, and there was that one time I got attacked by a bunch of drunken kids. That’s a story for another day.
But my favorite London memory this year was watching Lukas Rosol’s stunning victory against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, primarily because I was in the comical position of trying to put into words what was happening when all I could think was: “I don’t know what’s happening.” No one really knew, actually. In a room full of seasoned tennis writers, all of whom are on different deadlines with different objectives, it’s rare that you look around and see everyone mesmerized by a single match. As a match progresses, writers tend to brainstorm an angle to best present the facts. That seemed to go out the window that night, as we just watched the five-set upset unfold and knew that there didn’t need to be an angle to this match. The angle was simply that it happened.
• 50 Shades of embarrassing: Rain delays. Gotta love them. With all the top seeds crashing out of Queen’s Club early, I decided to abandon my coverage there and hop on a train to Birmingham, England, where Melanie Oudin was making a deep run. Stupidly, I didn’t check the weather to see that Birmingham was under a serious deluge of rain that didn’t look to be letting up anytime soon. So for two days I sat in the media center with nothing to do but drink lots of tea and try every type of cookie — or “biscuit,” as the Brits would say — as I surfed the Internet until play was officially called off for the day. At the urging of a player, I downloaded the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy and read them all during the two-day rainout. You know that story about eating McDonald’s in Melbourne? That wasn’t my lowest moment. This was.