Letter From A Superfan

 

When it was announced the likes of Juan Martin Del Potro, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori would be heading the sixth edition in Kuala Lumpur, everyone went mad! Facebook pages were full of it – nonstop. Our tourney director also announced few days later that half-Malaysian Nick Kyrgios would make the trip, I knew it was the time to get them tickets! No wait no more. The tournament got more exciting when Kei made his appearance in the U.S. Open finals. Despite losing, we knew he was going to be a hot sensation in the Malaysian Open. Yes, we knew Delpo pulled out to recuperate from his niggling wrist. Milos did the same – I am unsure why. I thought that we have had a good lineup - Jojo Melzer Joao Sousa, Pablo Cuevas all came back. Jarkko Nieminen, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Marinko Matosevic were few of the new faces. Doubles lineup exciting - we had our defending champ Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen again,  good doubles players like Oli Marach, Leander Paes, Marcin Matkowski and Andre Begemann all came down to KL. It was going to be an exciting tourney…
           
First round action started as early as Monday, where most of our seeded players who needed to play the first round made it through the second round easily. I was impressed with the young wildcard entrant Omar Jasika. He partied, danced all night at the players’ party. At that point of time, I did not know who he was! Probably, a friend of Nick Kyrgios or Bernie Tomic, that was all in my mind. The next day, when our announcer JD took him to the centre court, I was speechless. Nothing even came out from my mouth when he took the first set off Rajeev Ram. Well, I guess you need a bit of experience in the game to win – and that was why Rajeev won that match. Pablo Andujar, Pablo Cuevas – our seventh and fifth seed made it through comfortably. However, it is not tennis without disappointment. Nick Kyrgios was the first seed to fall – succumbed to fellow Aussie, Marinko Matosevic. My tourney favourite Jarkko Nieminen made it seem easy when he took Phillip Oswald down easily. In less than an hour or so, no? He just loves short matches! But, jokes aside, he was very sharp coming to the tournament.

 

We then had the match between two young lads, Hugues Herbert and Bernie Tomic. At that point of time, it was the match of the tournament. We know Pierre is an all-rounder. He has a serve of Richard Gasquet, crisp volley of Michael Llodra, and vision of none other than Roger Federer. I can see him going far. On the other hand, Bernard Tomic has all the styles to his name, but only lack confidence and concentration. I noticed he gives up too easily, nothing like the Aussies we are familiar with, Rafter, Hewitt, you name them. I would say he has had a yoyo career so far, but could do better. Our defending champions Joao Sousa came in late as he made the Metz finals, and failed to impress against rocket server Benjamin Becker. Sousa tried everything, but all Benni did was to serve well. Booom! There was never a time he did not serve below 170 kilometers per hour. Joao was sent home packing in singles, but did quite a good job in the doubles with Leo Mayer. Doubles action was more interesting then, newly-formed Julian Knowle and Andre Begemann knock the defending champions out in the first round. We’ve also had Murray & Peers playing the wildcard combo of Nick Kyrgios and Syed Agil, the Malaysian number one.  First few games of that match were tight. Both teams were serving well. The wildcard pairing had the crowd cheering for them at every point. Sadly, their hard work was not enough; Murray & Peers were far more superior, advanced to the next round.

 

The second round was far more interesting. Pablo Cuevas was the first to victor on that day over Ivan Dodig. Ivan had few match points, but failed to convert. Jarkko Nieminen again impressed by knocking Leo Mayer, the third seed, out of the tournament. Hot-tempered Marinko Matosevic, ‘Mr. Perfect’ Pablo Andujar, and the jovial Julien Benneteau had a routine but hard fought victories over their respective opponents. Begemann and Knowle again went on to send the all-American U.S. Open quarterfinalist, the pairing of Rajeev Ram & Scott Lipsky home. Newly-formed team Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea were also through, followed by the Matkowski & Paes, who played long-time best buddies Jojo Melzer and Philipp Petzschner. I would rate that match as the highlight of the day. It was simply magnificent. Revenge is sweet, I guess and that’s why Matkowski went out from Court 2 smiling. Only those who followed the doubles game knew why these guys had a ‘fierce’ rivalry starting few years back! If you think it ended there, you are wrong.  Benni Becker also made the cut after knocking Pierre Herbert in a match full of rallies. At around 6.30 p.m.; I was shocked to see the stadium was filled with Japanese flags.  Never have I seen this for the past 5 years. It was full house! It is safe to say that the seats were taken by mostly Japanese. I knew few of them myself, and they told that they skipped work just to watch their local boy. Some even rushed from Shah Alam! Fanatic much? No! It still didn’t end there, we had the ‘Outspoken One’ Ernests Gulbis who played Philip Petzschner in the main event. Ernie took the first set amazingly, but lost the second. He was pretty mad and broke a racquet. Putting all his anger aside, he managed to score a victory and was through to the next round.

 

It was a long day, and I missed the last train back home. It was all good for me, so long as I have watched good tennis. I then texted Nick Freyer – giving my thoughts on the tournament progress. Nick is a great guy, in the players’ party, he introduced me to Fabrizio Sestini, one of the ATP management, another great guy! We spoke about tennis a lot, and I am happy to know both! Fabrizio is a very friendly guy himself, always wave his hand across when he sees me! Spontaneously, I predicted who our four semifinalists were going to be. I was told that if I were to get them 100% right, I would be invited to the inner sanctum – the place where everyone in the stadium wants to be, or probably the place they call home. You read that right, and maybe guessed the same too, the PLAYERS LOUNGE!  First match I saw was Cuevas-Benneteau in the quarters. I knew one mistake would blew out my chances, and this match I was scared the most. Thankfully, Julien won! I was happy as much as Julien and his ‘Allez Army’! Next, was Jarkko Nieminen taking on Pablo Andujar. Huh, you guys might have guessed Pablo no? Yeah! You were wrong! Jarkko won, and I was one leg away from the players’ lounge invitation. Becker took on Gulbis, you can predict that, no? And lastly, Kei took on Matosevic. That rounded the day up. We knew who our semifinalists were for singles.

 

New and fresh day began. It was a Saturday, unfortunately. A day away from the last time I would see the Putra Indoor Stadium this year. I met the Tournament Director and he took me to the lounge. I was speechless! It was paradise. Really! Not joking. No wonder the players love it. Whatever you ask or demand for, it will be in front of you with a smile. I did not expect the hospitality would be as good. And, I would personally express my gratitude towards Sheena, Lisa Robidoux and there was once French speaking lady whom I did not really get her name. They treated me  so well. Just imagine, what the players would feel! Home, indeed and why the players like this tournament so much. When I entered, Julien was with his coach speaking to each other. Ernests were practicing, and came shortly after. He was nice, he knew who I was. I guess the two wristband he threw to me would not make him forget! I wished him luck, and I noticed that he didn’t want to speak much! Around mid-day, lunchtime to be more precise, you could feel the hype. Imagine having lunch with Kei Nishikori next to you! Well, I had fun there. I met Toby there again, met Fabrizio downstairs. I felt like crying with joy!

 

Semis was nice too, the fact that I had delicious sushi, smoothies, pasta all fed inside at the players lounge compliments of the tournament! Not to mention Sheena’s famous fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, highly recommended! She’s the best! We started off with the Latvia-France battle between their two top players. I noticed Ernests were not as good as his previous round and Julien took full advantage of that. Ernests smashed again his racquet, and were broken once in each set. He was a different man that day. He was not the Gulbis I knew. His famous ‘Flying Forehand’ was not accurate, misleading and a lot of unforced errors made. I would stop there, just in case if he may be reading this.  Again, when Kei Nishikori took the stage, nobody could say anything. Huge crowds were cheering like hell. It was only me for Jarkko, I guess. My fellow two musketeers (aka Superfans), Henry Haswell and Brandan were with the crowds. When Kei took the first set, both of them stood up gracefully, fist bumping each other while I just sat down there covering my face with my palms. I was shocked why this Finnish guy is still smiling despite being down. He never not-smile, has he? It was my turn the next set, when Jarkko turned the wheels. One set apiece and I was as happy as ever especially after one monumental rally that went for eternity and had both players gasping for breath – I heard it was broadcast on Finnish news the next day! Third one was one sided though, Kei was victorious. Come on, he is one of the top guns in the world now, what do you expect? Give Jarkko some credit. The doubles was entertaining too, as we saw Matkowski and Paes were victorious over Begemann and Knowle. The German-Austrian pair had no chance whatsoever. The other pair were far too good. On the other match, Murray-Peers took the better of Dom Inglot and Florin Mergea. I hope Dom is all well by now, knowing that he got injured in that match. Overall, it was a final everyone could ask for! Japanese against the French, who would prevail? I was hoping Julien would take it home as this would be his 10th ATP final and was 0-9 so far!

 

I guess it would not be fair for me to write about the finals as I was not there - for the second time in three years due to sad and unavoidable circumstances. I knew it would be interesting and I would love to be there and know that it was a sold out stadium. Based on what I heard, it was one of the best finals in the Malaysian Open’s history for the doubles! As for Julien, I feel him. I knew what it feels like being in your thirties and still not having won a title. The wait goes on. Maybe he is not destined to win a title in singles. Looking on the bright side, he has won a Grand Slam in doubles and beat Dimitrov this week in Shanghai! As for Kei, it is his best year. At the point of writing, he just won Tokyo as well. So, he deserved it. I had a fun week –  the best! I cannot imagine how Bernard Tomic took my friends and me to the stage to dance during the party and the lunch in the players lounge was a dream come true – I never expected ever to see it with my own eyes. I could not even think when Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea came to me. And not to mention what I have had here. All the friends I made. Thanks again. I am happy to say I grew old with this tournament and am so proud that Malaysia is able to stage such a special event that is broadcast around the world and I even saw on CNN the next day.  am so proud of it! Till then, see you next year. Allow me to share this very special photo. It means a lot, and I am happy to see this and hope it would headline the MOKL next year!

 

 


I love this picture! We label ourselves as the three musketeers (the tournament calls us “Superfans”),
and the other one is the TD, Nick Freyer himself!

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